GREEN BAY – No one is more keenly aware of the expectations for Tramon Williams than his head coach, Mike McCarthy; his position coach, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt; or Williams himself.
And as the Green Bay Packers veteran cornerback enters the 2013 season committed to recapturing the 2010 form that put him in the upper echelon of NFL cover men, McCarthy, Whitt and Williams are all convinced that he can be that player once again, despite two somewhat disappointing seasons after suffering nerve damage in his shoulder in a collision in the 2011 regular-season opener.
“Tramon Williams has obviously set a standard of play for himself. And that's really where you want him to get back to,” McCarthy said as the offseason organized team activity practices and minicamp wrapped up. “I always remembered when we signed Tramon and how he worked his way up on the practice squad. To me he would be the poster child for someone to come in to an NFL ballclub, particularly our place, you give a young man an opportunity... sitting in the front row, taking notes and just doing the things the right way.
“Yes, he's had a significant injury in the past that he's dealt with. He is truly one of the ultimate professionals on our football team. We just want to get him back play back to the standard that he has set."
That standard set by Williams was that of a shutdown corner. In 20 games (including playoffs) during the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV-winning season of 2010, Williams tallied 77 tackles, one sack, an eye-popping nine interceptions (including three in the playoffs) and broke up 31 passes. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Williams played a team-high 1,256 defensive snaps that season and was thrown 123 times. He allowed 56 completions for 690 yards, and quarterbacks had a passer rating of just 42.4 when throwing at him. He gave up four touchdowns that season against nine INTs and missed nine tackles. His most unforgettable play that season was a game-turning interception return for a touchdown in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Atlanta.
Then came the Sept. 8, 2011 opener against the New Orleans Saints. Inadvertently hit by safety Nick Collins late in the game, Williams suffered nerve damage in his right shoulder that caused him to miss the following week’s game at Carolina. When he returned, he struggled with being physical – both at the line of scrimmage, when jamming receivers in man-to-man press coverage, and when tackling receivers after the catch.
Even during the offseason leading up to last season, Williams’ shoulder wasn’t at full strength. Nonetheless, he had some shutdown moments, like he did in Week 2 against Chicago, when Brandon Marshall caught just two passes for 24 yards after talking a big game in the days leading up to the matchup.
But he also had some ugly moments. One came against the New York Giants on Nov. 25, when he appeared to turn down a tackle on a 59-yard screen pass to Ahmad Bradshaw. Both Williams and Whitt said afterward that Williams misread the play but wasn’t afraid to hit Bradshaw. The other came on a 17-yard completion to Minnesota fullback Jerome Felton in the Packers’ regular-season ending loss to the Vikings at the Metrodome.
“Tramon played very solid. Now he had some glaringly bad plays,” Whitt acknowledged. “I hear people saying, ‘Tramon can’t play.’ They’re wrong. They’re wrong. They’re taking a few glaringly bad plays and saying a man can’t play where I’m going to tell you this, there’s few guys that I would take over him. I don’t know if there’s any that I would take over him because when he’s allowed to do what he does best, he’s pretty good, and that’s just what it is.”
“And so I know some people are going to say he’s protecting his player. No, that’s just what it is because after the season I went back and watched every play, over 1,200 plays, the guy can play, and he played physical, too. Let me clear that up too. You go back and watch the games. Now, did he miss the tackle on the fullback from Minnesota? Yeah, but he went up there and hit it. We’re going to miss some tackles.
“He’s going to play fine this year. He’s not what I’m worried about.”
Nor is Williams worried about his health. During OTAs he said he is “healthy enough” to be the player he’s been in the past.
“I’m feeling better than I’ve felt in a long time,” Williams said. “I’ve done some stuff in the offseason, got into yoga, and I’m feeling really good. I’m playing really well, feeling confident, the whole nine (yards).”
One thing that could play into Williams’ resurgence: Whitt plays on letting his corners play the way they feel most comfortable, giving them some latitude whenever possible to decide for themselves whether to play off coverage or press-man coverage. Now, some defensive calls will require a certain coverage; other times, Whitt said, defensive coordinator Dom Capers will build into his defensive call a coverage that’s best for each cover man.
After intercepting only two passes last year – a startlingly low number after his six regular-season picks in 2010 and four in 2011 – Williams believes having the opportunity to play off his man more frequently will lead to more big plays.
“(Whitt) is going to give us freedom to do what we like, what we’re good at. In the past year or two, we’ve done some different things — according to some calls, you have to play a certain way. whatever way is the best way to play, that’s how they’re going to let us play,” Williams said. “For me, it’s going to be mixed up. I don’t think you can do one thing the whole game and not have the quarterback begin to pick up on you. If you can mix it up, I think you’ll definitely have a lot of success.”
“My thing is, I had some bad-looking plays last year, but with the exception of me not getting a lot of turnovers, I felt that I played well. If I came down with some of those interceptions, it would be a different story, it would be a different topic, but I only ended up with two interceptions. I had a chance to get more but didn’t, but that’s the way I feel: If I would have had more, it would have been a different story.”
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