Is this right?
“It’s actually two pounds off,” a sweaty Mike Williams, just finished from the practice field, tells a visitor holding a Seattle Seahawks roster that lists the wide receiver at 6-5, 235.
He checked into camp at 233 pounds.
“That might not matter to most people,” he says, “but two pounds makes a difference.”
At one point in 2008, during a disastrous foray with his third NFL team, the Tennessee Titans, Williams tipped the scales at 270. Too big. Too slow. Too sloppy. That he carried the weight of a tight end or linebacker was merely the first impression of much gone wrong.
Now he’s lean again, looking and performing like the receiver who came of Southern California in 2005 as a top-ten draft pick rather than a man cast for The Biggest Loser.
Williams, reunited with his college coach, Pete Carroll, is one of the most intriguing storylines in Seahawks camp with his make-or-break comeback attempt.
“I can do what my mind pictured for myself, the way I want to look and run,” says Williams, 26, whose outstanding start to training camp follows his stellar work in OTA sessions. “How I picture myself, I can apply that and actually do it, as opposed to being a little heavier and not being able to cut as much.”
It apparently took three teams, three failures and two years of unemployment for Williams to realize that he was blowing his considerable talent. Yet the diet – he says he’s eliminated fried foods, sweets and sodas, while significantly cutting back on red meat, breads and pasta – wasn’t the only drastic change he needed to make.
His lifestyle needed fixing, too. Williams, who also bombed with the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders, recently told The Seattle Times that he developed some “real bad habits” as his other pro football opportunities flamed out, such as hanging out in nightclubs and trying to share the NFL experience with family and friends.
This summer, though, he’s been taking the bus back and forth to the team hotel, carrying himself like a humbled rookie. Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates sees that as another sign that demonstrates how much Williams cares, this time around.
“He’s treating it with respect,” Bates says.
Better conditioned, Williams is also leaving impressions with his explosiveness in drills and endurance. That he doesn’t get winded after running 20 or 30 reps during a given practice is another marker for progress.
“Sometimes,” says Bates, “a person has to take a step back before they can take a step forward.”
Williams won’t argue that point.
“I’m trying to see how far I can take it,” he says. “I’m as excited as hell for this year, just because of the road it’s taken to get where I am.”
The Seahawks signed Williams in mid-April, after Carroll offered a tryout. Only two other teams showed any interest, and then only to the wait-and-see point of telling Williams’ agent that they’d call back later.
It’s hardly surprising that Carroll would give one of his former players a shot. There are eight former Southern California players on the Seahawks’ camp roster, including six who were added since Carroll took over in January. (Another former Trojan, running back LenDale White, was obtained in a draft-day trade, then released).
“It’s more of a ‘go prove it’ type of thing,” Williams says of his connection with Carroll. “He’s not married to any of the guys who played for him. He just kind of has more of an idea about us than our position coaches. But other than that, I don’t see him treating us any different, or talking to us more. He kind of ignores us. He doesn’t want to show any favoritism. And he’s on me about everything.”
Williams, drafted 10th overall by Detroit in 2005, tallied just 44 receptions in his three NFL seasons. Carroll undoubtedly is measuring the potential by a different standard. In two years at Southern California, Williams caught 176 passes.
Bates, who coordinated the Denver Broncos offense in 2008 that revolved around Jay Cutler’s frequent throws to ‘X’ receiver Brandon Marshall, has a best-scenario vision of Williams blossoming as the Seahawks’ workhorse ‘X’ target.
“He knows our history,” Bates says. “When he first came here, we talked about Brandon. He knows how many balls we threw to Brandon at that position.”
First things first.
“Let’s see what happens,” Bates added. “We still have a month. But he hasn’t disappointed us yet. We’re pulling for him.”
At the moment, that’s good enough for a man trying to revive his career and claim a role amid a group of receivers that includes T.J. Houshmandzadeh, former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch and rookie Golden Tate.
“I’m just trying to get better,” Williams says. “It’s still a long road. These practices, it’s still early. I have to apply it to the preseason games. My main thing is to maintain, to keep rising throughout this camp and see what I can do.”