Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams heard the term "sophomore slump" all offseason. After seeing a young, promising receiver like Michael Clayton not come close to reaching 1,000 yards after a sensational rookie season in 2004, Williams was often questioned about what he was going to do to avoid a similar slump in his second season.
Williams brushed off the notion of a sophomore slump during the summer, believing that learning the flanker and slot receiver positions this offseason would allow offensive coordinator Greg Olson to keep him away from double coverage and allow him to continue to rack up the yards and touchdowns. But after recording 65 catches for 964 yards and a franchise-record 11 touchdowns in 2010, Williams is indeed mired in a sophomore slump this year with just 23 catches for 183 yards and one touchdown through the first five games of the 2011 campaign. He is currently the team's third-leading receiver in terms of catches and yards.
"I have got to step up. I'm playing terrible," Williams said. "From my aspect I am playing terrible. I should be doing a lot more to help my team win. I should be getting in the end zone. That is something I did last year, and that was getting in the end zone. Putting up points for this team. That is something I'm not doing right now so I have to put it together.
"I have to play better. I've got to know they are looking for me. They want me to make big plays. I have to get open. I have to say forget the double teams, forget the frustration and catch the ball and do what I do. That is on me. I'm going to get that together starting (Sunday). Doing it in practice, too. Like Raheem [Morris] said, I have to run faster in practice and run faster in the games."
The former fourth-round pick out of Syracuse had his worst game of his young career at Minnesota in Week 2, catching one pass for minus-4 yards. Last week at San Francisco, Williams had just four catches for 28 yards (7.0-yard avg.) to go along with a fumble and a false start penalty on third down that negated a first down conversion. He is ready to forget the 49ers game and is looking forward to playing the Saints on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
“Who did we play again last Sunday?” Williams said. “We are playing the Saints (this week). I'm looking forward to the Saints. I don’t even know who we played the first five games. The fact is we are 3-2 and we are looking forward to trying to get a win on Sunday.
"The fact is we are 3-2, still a winning record. We have a chance to go out and beat the Saints and beat a team in our division and get back on track. Like they say, stats are for losers. We don't care that we are 28th (league ranking in total offense) if we keep winning games then it doesn't matter."
Bucs flanker Arrelious Benn said the team's wide receivers have been seeing a lot of Cover 2 defense with two high safeties and a combination of zone and man coverage underneath, which is taking away a lot of opportunities for deep and intermediate passes. Williams' longest reception of the season is just 22 yards.
"We've all not been playing to the best of our potential and possibilities," Benn said. "We're going to go out there and it starts today in practice. It started earlier in our walk-through and our details and staying top of our assignments."
Williams did have a touchdown against the Vikings taken away by an illegal motion penalty by Benn in Week 2. Benn said that the receivers need to stop making the mistakes and penalties that are hindering the offense.
"It's the little things, and we're not young anymore. That's not an excuse," Benn said. "This is our second year. We know what to expect. We know the offense and we know what to do."
What is not helping Williams, Benn and the other receivers is the decision-making of Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, who has just three touchdowns and six interceptions through the first five games of the season. In 2010, Freeman threw just six interceptions all season and had a career-high 25 touchdown passes.
“We know Josh is going to make the right decisions,” Williams said. “I don’t know a quarterback who has went through a whole season that didn’t throw an interception. It is going to happen. Mistakes are going to happen. We just have to bounce back. Like they say, the quarterback has to have that 'on to the next' mentality.
“We (the receivers) need to do a lot more to help him by getting open by breaking off the routes, going up and getting the ball. Take the ball from corners and do what we were doing last year. Getting back to doing things like that. It is on us, too. It is not all on Josh. We have to do a better job of making him look good."
While he wants to do what he can to contribute to his team's victories, Williams is not concerned by his lack of production from a statistical standpoint.
"We just need to get wins. If we run the ball 100 times I don't care. Let’s get a win," Williams said. "If we get a win it doesn't matter. We don't end up talking about what happened in the past, and what was so bad. When you get the win, it is all over. When you get a loss the mistakes start to be always be because of this and that."
Earlier this week, Williams met with Morris and told him that he would double his efforts to get back to the type of producer he was a year ago as Tampa Bay's primary receiver. He's anxious to prove that point against New Orleans on Sunday.
"This week you will see the old Mike Williams back," Williams said. "Like I told Raheem, I am back now."
– Mark Cook contributed to this report