Mike Williams has returned to the NFL with the Seahawks after being out of the league for two years, and he’s playing – and acting – like he plans on sticking around longer this time.
While most players pat the “I’m In” sign above the door as they head to the practice field, Mike Williams gathers himself in the hallway before laying an empathic slap on the mantra-message and bursting onto the field like a bull entering the ring.
Once on the field, Williams emits a roar of joy as he sprints to join his position group. During practice, he celebrates making a catch by pumping his fist and definitely isn’t shy about shoveling back some of the chirping the defensive backs dish out.
Football is fun again for Williams, and it’s obvious.
“I’m having fun because it’s football,” he said after a practice this week, as the Seahawks were preparing for Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Raiders in Oakland.
“I enjoy being around the guys I’m with. This game is business, but you can have a little fun with it.”
That hasn’t always been the case for the talented wide receiver who was not only a first-round draft choice in 2005, but a Top 10 pick by the Detroit Lions. He caught 29 passes that season, then couldn’t catch a break.
Williams had eight receptions in 2006 for the Lions, seven while playing for the Raiders and Tennessee Titans in 2007 and then was out of the league for the past two seasons before Pete Carroll – his former college coach at USC – gave him a chance this spring to restart his once-promising career.
Williams takes the Vegas approach when asked about his past – the trade to the Raiders in 2007; his weight getting as high as 270 pounds while with the Titans; the two-year gap in his career. You know, what happened in the past, stays in the past.
“To see Mike come out and be effective,” Carroll said, “that’s a really good sign for him. Physically, it’s the best I’ve seen him since maybe his sophomore year of college. He’s very serious about it, so maybe he has a chance to give us some help.”
So far, better than good. Entering the preseason finale, Williams has eight receptions to share the team lead with veteran T.J. Houshmandzadeh and promising second-year receiver Deon Butler.
Williams has been working in the No. 1 three-receiver package with Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch, and he brings elements to the passing game that have been missing in recent seasons – primarily his 6-foot-5, 233-pound body. The last time the Seahawks had a receiver with his size was in 2005, when Joe Jurevicius (6-5, 230) had a team-leading 10 TD catches during the run to the Super Bowl. But Jurevicius did not have Williams’ speed.
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley definitely appreciates what Williams brings to the passing game, and the problems he posses for opponents.
“It’s just matchup problems, especially in the red zone because he’s such a big body,” Bradley said. “So he definitely creates some issues. Something as a coordinator that you look at and say, ‘OK, he’s something to deal with, now how do we deal with him?’
“Mike has looked good all through camp and in games it’s showed up. How he goes about practice and his work ethic, it’s showed up on the game field. I’m glad he’s with us and not somebody else.”
Williams made a huge play in the opener, taking a short pass from backup QB Charlie Whitehurst and turning it into a 51-yard touchdown with an impressive run after the catch. He caught four passes the following week against the Green Bay Packers, including a pair of 17-yarders from Matt Hasselbeck to spark the drive to the Seahawks’ first touchdown and set up the second. Last week, against the Vikings in Minnesota, Williams had a 42-yarder among his three receptions to get the offensive rolling toward its second field goal.
As impressive as his on-field efforts have been, it’s the way Williams has reacted to them off the field that has really been revealing. Asked about that TD against the Titans, he praised Whitehurst for checking to the play that produced it. Asked about the run after the catch, he pointed out that it would not have happened without a downfield block from tight end Cameron Morrah.
Then there’s his approach to the roster cut to 53 players on Saturday.
“There’s no guarantee I’ll be here, there’s no guarantee I’ll make this team,” he said. “I’m just trying to continue to work and put my bid in. I look at this opportunity as every time we get ready to play these preseason games it’s an audition.
“It’s a tryout all over again.”
Doing – and saying – the right things. It’s a continuation of what has been apparent since the day Williams arrived in mid-April: He gets it. After being out of the game for two seasons, he realizes this likely is his last chance to resurrect his career.
“I wanted to play,” he said. “So when you get an opportunity and you feel like you’re around people who want to give you an opportunity to play, then everything else takes care of itself.
“I’ve always had to protect myself – like I’m cornered, or my back’s against the wall against the organization or against whoever. I always felt like that. These guys don’t care about anything here but winning and putting the best product on the field. I can relate to that. I can buy into that.”
But he still knows how to enjoy him, as evidenced by some of the sideline exchanges with the defensive backs during practice.
“I pretty had his number in camp, and I told him I’d give him the keys now that the season is about to start so he could start his engine again,” said cornerback Josh Wilson, getting in one last good-natured jab at Williams before he was traded to Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday.
Wilson couldn’t hold back a smile as he added, “No, really, that’s a big specimen out there. I remember when Mike was at Oakland, at first I thought they had put their left tackle out there to play wide receiver.
“But he’s got a lot of ability, being that big and having the ball skills to go up and get it when they throw it up there. He’s just making play after play.”
Enough to make it look like he’ll be around to play for awhile; and make up for lost time.