Tennessee defensive back Dee Williams. Photo by Rocky Top Insider.
Tennessee special teams coordinator Mike Ekeler has been a big fan of Vols’ return man Dee Williams for some time now.
When Josh Heupel’s staff took over prior to the 2021 season, Ekeler stood in front of the media and said that he was looking for a “fart in a skillet” at the return position.
Fast forward a little bit to this past spring, Ekeler doubled down that defensive back and preseason All-SEC Third Team returner Dee Williams was the fart in a skillet that he was looking for.
“I mean, Dee [Williams] is special, man,” Tennessee special teams coach Mike Ekeler said in April. “The guy is what you want. I stood up here two years ago and you asked me what we wanted [out of a return man] and I said a fart in a skillet, right? That guy is a fart in a skillet. That’s what you want. And so every time that ball is punted and with No. 3, you give him a chance to get that thing started, everybody in Neyland should be holding their breath.”
Jumping ahead to this past Saturday, Ekeler once again set the bar high for what Williams can do for Tennessee as a specialist this season. Ekeler spoke about what makes Williams so dangerous as the Vols’ punt return man.
“He is confident,” Ekeler said on Saturday. “He understands his role. He is going to have the opportunity to be the best return guy in the country. He has earned that, and he has the instincts, he has the ability, and it’s like an offense. When you have a great running back, your offensive line blocks a little bit harder. They know all they have to do is just give you a crease, and that’s what those guys understand on our return units. All they have to do is just get it started and he will do the rest. The guy is a real one.”
While he only broke one punt return touchdown during the Vols’ 2022 campaign, Williams did his job and put Tennessee in solid field position time and time again. Some bad luck and good defensive coverage stopped him from having more touchdowns on the year but didn’t completely slow down his ability to make defenders miss and get down the field.
Dee Williams’ celebration is A1 😂 pic.twitter.com/FEn6QImIOo
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 27, 2022
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Williams took back 15 of Tennessee’s 20 punt returns during the 2022 season and averaged 18.73 yards per return. Additionally, while he did take back one during the season, kick return wasn’t Williams’ area of expertise. That role went to former WR Jimmy Holiday.
With Holiday gone from the team, though, Williams may receive more of a role as a kick returner this season.
“I just started working kickoff return a couple weeks ago,” Williams said on Saturday. “It’s a lot different than punt return. You have 11 guys, obviously, coming at you full speed [in kick return]. So you’re really just depending on that front line to protect you if you’re coming out with the ball or not. Punt return-wise, it’s only you back there. So you just have to be precise with your decisions.”
Williams isn’t the only return man that Ekeler spoke about on Saturday.
“The guy is a real one,” Ekeler said about Williams. “But we have a bunch of them too now. Squirrel White, he is real. Cam Seldon, he is real. [Dylan] Sampson, he is real. We have a bunch of those guys, which we should.”
Tennessee will open the season on Saturday, Sept. 2 in Nashville’s Nissan Stadium against Virginia.