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Leonard Williams of USC is healthy, ignoring NFL draft hype

Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press
Leonard Williams playing at 100 percent is a scary thought for opposing Pac-12 offenses.

LOS ANGELES -- USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams has said he played last season at anywhere from 65 to 70 percent due to a shoulder injury he suffered in fall camp. That's notable considering he was named an All-American and was one of the most fearsome defensive linemen on the West Coast by the end of 2013.

When the Trojans' new head coach Steve Sarkisian found out Williams didn't play last year fully healthy, he was as surprised as anybody because he couldn't tell he was playing hurt when watching film of the team from last year.

Ohio State defensive lineman Noah Spence (8) lines up against Illinois offensive linesman Michael Heitz (74) and offensive linesman Alex Hill (52)during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, in Champaign, Ill. (Jeff Haynes/Associated Press)
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"I can only imagine Leonard's at 100 percent of what he's going to look like this fall," said Sarkisian on Wednesday. "I know the offense isn't particularly fired up about going against him in practice every day."

Nor are many opponents. Williams underwent offseason surgery for a torn labrum and missed spring practice, but said at Pac-12 Media Days that he would be 100 percent for the first time in a while when fall camp rolls around.

Considered by most to be a blue-chip NFL draft prospect and possible top-10 pick if he decides to declare after the season, Williams has the potential to be even more disruptive for the defense this year as he lines up in multiple spots.

"This year, I'm going to be playing more on the outside and lined up on the tight end a lot more," Williams said. "Last year I was more of a three-technique, lining up against guards and a few times against a tackle. Now it will be more against the tackle or tight end.

"In a passing situation, I probably like to play more in a three-technique. But in running downs I'd rather go against tackles and tight ends."

<b>Particulars:</b> 6-5, 292, junior
<br><br>(AP Photo/Ben Liebenberg)
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New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has had plenty of past success in turning linemen into quality draft picks, and just last season at Washington took Hau'oli Kikaha from a little-known, oft-injured player into one who finished with 13 sacks as an outside pass rusher. In Williams, however, he has perhaps his most talented pupil yet and one uniquely qualified to fill multiple roles along the line.

"Leonard's got a very high football IQ, so we'll rely on Leonard to play multiple positions, because if I were playing us, I would want to know every snap," Sarkisian added. "We'll try to move him around as best we can and put him in position to be successful."

More than a few pundits have even thrown it out there that Williams has all the tools, physical attributes and quality tape to end up as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. The Florida-born lineman downplays such talk any chance he gets, and always appears to be more eager to talk about the rest of his teammates or the Trojans' defense in 2014.

"I see the hype a lot. To be honest though, I don't pay attention," Williams said. "Some of my friends ask me about it, but I just focus on having a great season this year. I'm so ready for camp."

More than a few folks are ready to see what Williams does on the field in 2014 fully healthy, too.

Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter @BryanDFischer.

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