Beat Writer & Videographer
General manager Mark Dominik is confident the rookie wide receiver Mike Williams will continue to be a star unlike former first round pick Michael Clayton, who was never the same after a fabulous rookie season.
There is no doubt that Tampa Bay received some solid play from a plethora of rookies in 2010. First-round pick Gerald McCoy started to come on strong at the end of the year with three sacks before suffering a season-ending bicep injury. Second-round pick Arrelious Benn started the season off slow, but he made several big catches towards the end of the year. By the end of the season, third-round pick Myron Lewis was the nickel corner.
The Bucs also got some major contributions from their seventh-round picks -- free safety Cody Grimm, fullback Erik Lorig, and linebacker Dekoda Watson, all of whom started at least one game this season, and also from several undrafted players like running back LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for over 1,000 yards, and guard Derek Hardman, who started the final four games of the season at right guard.
But the cream of the crop of Tampa Bay’s 2010 rookie class is hands down wide receiver Mike Williams. The fourth-round pick out of Syracuse burst onto the scene this year and put up some great numbers for Tampa Bay. Williams finished his record campaign with 65 receptions for 974 yards (14.8 average) and 11 touchdowns.
“It’s been a long time since a receiver has attacked the ball the way Mike Williams attacks the ball, that runs the routes that Mike Williams does, and the run after the catch that Mike Williams has,” said general manager Mark Dominik. “He’s a phenomenal athlete. If you go on Youtube you can see some amazing dunks. He’s a fantastic athlete and he takes his profession seriously.”
Williams’ 11 trips into the end zone set a new franchise record for Tampa Bay. Joey Galloway formally held the record of most touchdown receptions in a single season with 10 in 2005.
“I don’t look at records,” said Williams. “I don’t really care about them, but I feel good that I came this season and did what I said I was going to do, which was to come here and accomplish all my goals.”
Next year’s goal for Williams is to help the Bucs make the playoffs, which is something they just narrowly missed out on this season after finishing with a 10-6 record. As long he and quarterback Josh Freeman continue to build chemistry, they have a shot to reach that goal and more next season.
“It’s very exciting,” said Williams. “All year playing with him, catching touchdowns from him, and learning from him has been great. I’m looking forward to us keeping it going in the future.”
It’s hard not to look at the 6-foot-1, 212-pound Williams and not get excited about all the potential he has that could make him an elite receiver, but Tampa Bay has been down this road before, hasn’t it? In 2004, then rookie Michael Clayton also took the NFL by storm and finished the season with 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. Then Clayton suffered from injuries and received a reputation of being a person that enjoyed the nightlife too much. Because of that Clayton never caught more than 38 balls or had more than 500 yards in any of the next five seasons with the Bucs, and he was released this past year at the end of the preseason.
This season Williams was pulled over for speeding in November after he left a Tampa area nightclub. Williams was then arrested on suspicion of drunk driving despite being having a blood alcohol level under the legal limit. Williams was released later that morning and the Bucs handled the matter internally by fining him.
When asked if he is concerned about Williams becoming another Michael Clayton, Dominik said that there were no worries, “I think the thing with Mike is that you saw a little bit of it [against New Orleans]. You saw it when Dezmon Briscoe came in. These guys really play hard for their coaches… but Mike has been consistent every week whether he caught two or eight balls. I don’t see a young man that will see a pitfall in his career in turns of what he can do on the football field. He’s been very impressive.”
Next season Williams and the rest of the young Bucs are not going to be able to sneak up on anybody. He, like the rest of the team, will be targeted and head coach Raheem Morris let his team know that.
“Yeah, and I think it was well received. The guys, they understand that. We are a young team this year,” said Freeman. “People say, ‘the Bucs are young and some of their wins are flukes. They can’t perform week in and week out.’ We feel like we are competitive every week. For a lot of these guys the length of the season is something they’ve never experienced. The way Mike Williams performed from Week 1 to all the way until the end was tremendous. It is definitely a good message from Raheem because next year teams are going to be looking out for us.”
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