Last season, Eric Williams was about the only stability Pitt had at linebacker. As part of a unit riddled by injuries, he was the only one to play in all 13 games at the position.
Heading into 2013, though, Williams will be leaving the position he locked down in 2012 to try to make his mark at safety.
The coaches moved Williams to free safety before spring practice and, with entrenched starter Jason Hendricks out with a right toe injury, the junior has been practicing with the first team through the first seven spring sessions.
"I'm getting pretty comfortable," Williams said. "I've got to learn the scheme, and everything else will just fall into its place."
Looking ahead for Pitt
• What: Blue-Gold scrimmage, the traditional end to spring drills.
• When: 7 p.m. April 12.
• Where: Bethel Park High School.
Defensive coordinator Matt House said the move made sense given Williams' athletic ability as well as how he played last season. Playing the strongside linebacker position, Williams, who played safety in high school, had a lot of coverage responsibilities.
At 6 feet 3, 205 pounds, he looks the part.
"We thought he's got some range and, the way we played him last year, a lot of times he was doing some of the same movements that a safety does," House said. "We thought it was a good time to take a look at him."
Williams said the toughest part of the adjustment at first was not getting in a linebacker stance and collapsing down on the line of scrimmage every play. As he settles in at safety, he has allowed his ball-hawking instincts to take over, with a couple of interceptions in 11-on-11 drills in the most recent practices.
Tuesday, he leaped over the middle to grab an errant pass from quarterback Tom Savage.
"I think as he learns and feels comfortable with the position, he can make some plays like that," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. "He is rangy, he's got the ability to cover some ground, so I think, as he continues to feel comfortable with the position, then he can put himself in the position to make some plays."
Williams has been practicing with the first team because Hendricks hasn't participated in team drills this spring. Once Hendricks, who earned all-Big East honors last year, is healthy, he likely will reclaim his starting spot next to strong safety Ray Vinopal.
House, though, said it's too early to start worrying about depth chart specifics.
"We've got eight more practices in the spring and then 20-something in the fall to see how it stacks up," House said.
"If we're going to be a good defense, we don't want to just have 11 starters. We need a whole bunch of guys that are starters in different ways."
Williams said he has been trying to learn both the strong and free safety positions to increase his chances of playing and help the defense's versatility.
"Our safeties have got to really be multiple," House said. "They've got to know both spots, and I think the way spread teams are today and the hurry-up offense, you'd better be able to know and understand concepts."
There's a steep learning curve that Williams will have to face over the rest of the spring and summer before he even thinks about live action next fall. But he's ready for the challenge.
Despite his rock-steady presence at linebacker last year, he said he still feels more comfortable at safety.
"I would say so. I'm more of a tall, lean, rangy kid, if you want to put it that way," he said. "Safety or linebacker, I'm tough, so it really doesn't matter to me."
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.