RENTON – The first day the Seattle Seahawks showed up for training camp a month ago, reporters craned their necks to get a glimpse of Mike Williams.
Did Williams, who had a breakout 2010 season in Seattle after a two-year absence from the NFL, fall back to his old ways during the offseason?
Well, the first sight of the wide receiver revealed that wasn’t the case. He chuckled and rubbed his hands over a svelte midsection when asked what he did during the offseason.
Williams remains trim at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds and appears ready to build on the 65-catch, two-touchdown performance of last season. That was 21 more receptions than he had during the first three years of his career, which included stops in Detroit, Oakland and Tennessee before landing in Seattle with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, his former coach at USC.
But like last year, Williams says there’s work to do. Once again, he has to learn a new offense – the version of the West Coast offense that new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell brought with him from Minnesota. And now, he has been relegated to No. 2 receiver with the addition of free agent Sidney Rice, whom the Seahawks signed to a five-year, $41 million deal.
“I’m still trying to find my place and find my role in this offense,” Williams said. “Obviously, we’re still (installing it), and we don’t have the whole offense in and we’re not really doing too much. So through this week and throughout the next week, I’ll have a better feel for everything. But, obviously, the goals are going to be there.”
Williams provided the bulk of Seattle’s explosive plays in the passing game in 2010, including impressive performances in both games against Arizona, and at Chicago early in the season. In those three games alone, Williams had 32 catches for 355 yards and a touchdown.
But he failed to make much of an impact outside those contests.
He also finished among the league leaders with seven drops last year. And a couple of those came in critical situations – a potential touchdown with his team down 13-0 in the third quarter against Oakland, and another possible score against the New York Giants in the opening half with Seattle trailing 21-0 and reserve quarterback Charlie Whitehurst starting his first game.
That pass bounced off Williams’ hands and helmet and into the hands of Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas, halting a drive in an eventual 41-7 rout by New York.
But perhaps Williams’ biggest no-show came in a 35-24 NFC playoff loss at Chicago, where Seattle’s go-to receiver was targeted 13 times but finished with just four receptions for 15 yards. He did catch two short touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, but that was after the game had long since been decided.
Williams understands he still has room for improvement, saying that holding on to the ball is one of his top priorities this season.
“To have no drops,” Williams said, when asked what his goals were. “I thought that was kind of an issue for me last year. Maybe not a big issue, but an issue nonetheless. Just dropping the easy stuff, a couple of the easy balls, and not really (focusing).
“Right now my goals are to eliminate the drops, and break a tackle and turn these 10-yard catches into big plays. So having Sidney here obviously pushes me to want to play better, and to not kind of fall in the background, so to speak. So I’ll keep pushing myself, and we’ll see what happens.”
Nagging injuries also have been a concern.
Williams missed two games last year with ankle and foot problems. He has missed practice time during training camp this year with a leg strain and a sprained toe. Concerns about Williams’ health is one of the reasons Seattle drafted big receiver Kris Durham in the fourth round in April.
Still, Carroll has high expectations for Williams in his second season in Seattle.
“I see it as last season was kind of his rookie season and he just started,” Carroll said. “All the things that went on before didn’t really factor in or matter. He’s a different guy. He’s determined and physically so different playing than he was before. Now that he’s been out here consistently, his presence is known on the practice field.
“There’s a chance that Mike could really take a big step and really be a consistent factor on our team. We’re counting on it. We’re looking for him to do that if he can pull it together. He’s working with that mentality right now, so we’re really happy about that.”
Williams would like to get things rolling in Denver, a place where he struggled during the regular season last year with just one catch for 7 yards while playing with a thigh injury.
The same goes for Seattle’s starting offensive unit, which has yet to score during the exhibition season.
“We’ve got to challenge ourselves to be disciplined and not beat ourselves with the pre-snap penalties,” Williams said. “As well as the other penalties we had up and down the field on plays that turned small plays into big gains because of penalties, and plays that happen that come back because of penalties. We got to challenge ourselves to go out and actually force a team to beat us, and not beat ourselves.”