Tampa Bay receiver Mike Williams enters the 2012 campaign ready to put what he calls a "terrible season" in 2011 in the rear view mirror. With the arrival of Vincent Jackson, Williams has moved to flanker and may even be used as a punt returner on occasion as both he and the Bucs look to rebound this year.
For some second-year NFL wide receivers, catching 65 passes for 771 yards and three touchdowns wouldn’t be considered a terrible season. But when you are Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams and you caught 65 passes for 964 yards and a franchise-record 11 touchdowns as a rookie in 2010, you aren’t pleased with the step backwards statistically – especially scoring eight less touchdowns.
The Bucs, who are coming off a 4-12 campaign in 2011 marked by a 10-game losing streak to end the season, could have used eight more touchdowns from Williams – or anybody – last year.
“I think it was a terrible season for me,” Williams said of his sophomore year in the NFL. “It may have been one of the worst seasons I have had in my career. It’s the bounce back season and I’m going to forget about it. I’m going to use what I did bad to get good this season.”
Williams and the other Bucs receivers struggled to get separation in man coverage last year. Lack of the proper technique for getting off the line of scrimmage cleanly and not being in the best shape, perhaps due to the lack of an offseason caused by the NFL lockout, were the biggest contributors for Williams’ statistical drop. The Syracuse product has been working with energetic receivers coach P.J. Fleck to improve his technique and become a more knowledgeable receiver heading into his third NFL season.
“Basically knowing the offenses, knowing the defenses, knowing when I have to break off my runs. I’m learning more about that with these new coaches,” Williams said. “It’s a new season, I’m over it. I’m not going to say entirely over it, but I’m about 95 percent over it right now. By Week One I’m going to be completely over it and hopefully by training camp I will be completely over it. That was last year. That’s the good thing about having a bad season … you get to go on to the next season. Going into this season we are going to forget about what happened last season.”
Williams is a quick study, which allowed him to easily capture a starting role as a rookie and have such a successful debut in the NFL. The arrival of Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson in free agency has meant a position change for Williams, who is moving from split end to flanker, but still remains in the starting lineup. The team’s fourth-round pick in 2010 said the recent mini-camp was productive and that he has Mike Sullivan's offense down pat heading into training camp.
“It was great. We got everything we wanted to get done in camp,” Williams said. “We had 98 percent of the guys here with everybody participating, everybody buying in. We all got it. It was a great camp for us.
“I’ve got the offense, got all the positions. They’re moving me around a lot of places. I feel good right now.”
One of those positions that Williams has been moved to is punt return. While Preston Parker or Sammie Stroughter will likely claim the return duties in training camp and the preseason, Williams may be used strategically as a return specialist due to his explosiveness.
“I did a little bit of it this camp,” Williams said. “It feels good to get the ball in my hands. I did a little bit in college and it feels like bringing back memories in the pros.”
Getting his conditioning back to where it was during his rookie season has helped Williams regain a higher degree of explosiveness.
“I accomplished a lot this offseason by learning the playbook, running a lot, and I’m in the best shape of my life right now,” Williams said.
During his rookie season, Williams was a big-play receiver for the Buccaneers, hauling in a 58-yard touchdown catch against Atlanta and producing 18 receptions over 20 yards while averaging 14.8 yards per catch. Last year, Williams wasn’t as explosive, averaging only 11.9 yards per catch and having only nine catches over 20 yards. His longest catch was a 42-yard grab against Carolina on December 5. His previous long was only a 23-yard reception through the first three months of the 2011 season.
Having Jackson draw opponents’ top cornerbacks, along with his improved technique, should help Williams when it comes to getting open in 2012. Jackson, who has 272 career catches for 4,754 yards and 37 touchdowns and comes to Tampa Bay with Pro Bowl credentials, has also provided Williams with a great role model to look up to at One Buccaneer Place.
“[He’s about] getting all the extra work in,” Williams said of Jackson. “You get off field, you watch a little film, and you go home. That’s not Vincent. You get off the field, watch a little film, and he makes you watch a little bit more film. He makes you watch yourself and watch what the defender is doing to you. That’s kind of what I learned from him that you have to keep evaluating yourself and evaluating other players, too.”
While the Bucs have six weeks off prior to the start of training camp on July 27, Williams, Jackson and some other receivers plan on meeting up with quarterback Josh Freeman to get some extra work on their timing in July.
“Me and Josh have always had good timing. It is really good,” Williams said. “We said a couple weeks and then we’re right back working. We will take a couple weeks off then we’re back getting timing down and learning the play book even more.”
Not only does Williams expect to rebound from what he calls a “terrible season” in 2011 this year, he believes the team will, too.
“Yeah, exactly. We keep saying, ‘No rebuilding,’” Williams said. “This is just a chance to move forward. Everyone is doubting us again so we have a chance to prove a lot of people wrong.”
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.