Bucs WR Mike Williams is ready to avoid a sophomore slump and is working on improving for 2011. Williams has spent the offseason with QB Josh Freeman to learn other receiving positions.
From Day One of the rookie mini-camp last year, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams looked like a massive upgrade to the Bucs offense. After getting substandard play from starters Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton in 2009, the Buccaneers were looking for some young receivers to step up in 2010. The Bucs selected the Syracuse product in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, and after one season that selection looks like perhaps the biggest steal of any draft pick from last year.
Williams burst onto the NFL scene when he caught 65 passes for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie. The receiver, who just turned 24, earned a starting spot during OTAs (organized team activities) and training camp. He started all 16 games and was a finalist to be the NFL’s Rookie of the Year. Williams’ averaged 14.8 yards per catch, and was a consistent source for big plays for the Buccaneers.
Bucs fans have seen in the recent past a Buccaneers rookie receiver produce a dynamic season only to disappoint in year two. In 2004, Clayton looked like a future Pro Bowl receiver as a rookie, but never came close to duplicating that production in any other NFL season. Williams has been working on his overall game this offseason and is driven not to have a sophomore slump.
“I wanted to work on getting better in all aspects,” Williams said. “Everybody keeps talking about a sophomore slump and all that, but I’m out here trying to get better. No matter what people think, we’re going to go out here and try to prove people wrong with what we’ve been doing.”
A big part of Williams’ improvement is giving offensive coordinator Greg Olson more flexibility in where he lines up Williams and how he uses him. Last year, Williams started the season at the X (split end) receiver position. That receiver tends to run deeper routes downfield and is more of a big play threat, while the Z (flanker) receiver is more of the possession receiver that works in the short to intermediate part of the field. This offseason, Williams has focused on learning the routes for the Z receiver and slot receiver to offer more scheme variation and mismatch opportunities for Olson.
“I now know every position and I’m trying to get better at every position,” Williams said. “[Josh Freeman] has been putting me at each position and calling the play and snapping the ball and seeing if I know what to do. We’ve been doing good at that.”
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receiver Marvin Harrison rewrote the NFL record books. Manning said they would not have been able to have the success they had without working together in the months of April, May and June over the years. Williams is a Syracuse product like Harrison, and like the Colts great, Williams has spent the spring with his starting quarterback working on taking another step in 2011.
“Even though we are not at One Buc we got our offseason workouts in,” Williams said. “We were at South Florida and now we’re out here getting our workouts in. We’re trying to keep doing what we’re supposed to be doing if there wasn’t a lockout. We’re still trying to get some workouts in.”
Williams said that he and Freeman have built off 2010 and have the chemistry of an elite tandem.
“We feel like we’re right there now,” Williams said. “We just have to show everybody that we’re right there. Last year, I just learned the entire offense by the last game of last season. Now, I know the whole offense and I know what I have to do and where I’m going to be if I go to the slot or be the Z receiver. Right now, [Josh and I] are on the same page.”
Manning and Harrison were also bolstered by the contributions of teammates that are also excellent receivers. Tight end Dallas Clark and wide receiver Reggie Wayne were essential pieces to the Colts' dominant offense. Last year, the Bucs saw other receivers emerge as quality contributors. Fellow 2010 rookie Arrelious Benn finished the season strong before an injury robbed him of the final game and a half. Micheal Spurlock was a solid contributor, and rookie Dezmon Briscoe finished the season strong. Plus, tight end Kellen Winslow played 16 games for the second straight season and continued to prove that he is one of the top receiving tight ends in the NFL.
“Like we told people last year, we think we have a great corps,” Williams said. “We can go out there and we can battle with any corps out there in the world. We can sub in and out and we can get the same production from the first guy in that was in there. We can play with anybody and I think we showed that too this offseason by all being here.”
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