Williams slims down for last NFL chance
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jeff Fisher couldn’t have been more frank with Mike Williams: Lose weight or else.
Fisher warned Williams in January that when the receiver returned for offseason workouts the numbers on the scale would say a lot about what the 10th pick overall in the 2005 draft wanted for his professional future. After all, it was Williams who found himself with his third NFL team in four seasons.
Williams responded, losing more than 30 pounds and arriving bright and early that first day eager to show off his hard work.
Message seemingly received.
“That conversation with Fisher, only a fool wouldn’t take it as such,” Williams said of the coach’s ultimatum after a recent minicamp session. “It was pretty much, ‘You make a commitment to be in shape when you come back or . . . move forward.’ ”
Saying the right things never has been a problem for Williams, the 6-foot-5 receiver with great hands who looked like a can’t-miss pro during his two seasons at USC. Matching the words with consistent actions? That has been as much of a challenge as keeping his weight down.
The receiver who finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting as a sophomore with 30 career college touchdowns likely is down to his last NFL chance.
He lost 2004 when an appeals court upheld the NFL’s right to bar players less than three years out of high school and the NCAA blocked his return to USC. Now he’s been traded away by the Detroit Lions, released by the Oakland Raiders. With only 44 catches and two TDs in three NFL seasons, Williams has been a bust.
It’s costing the Titans little for this gamble. If the 24-year-old Williams salvages his career, it would give Vince Young a big target and another weapon. That would help offset Tennessee’s failed first pick of 2005, the sixth overall wasted on suspended cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, who was traded away last month to Dallas.
Fisher, also a USC grad, said Williams met the goals the coach set for him early in the offseason.
“His weight’s coming down. We’re working on the speed. He’s running well and catching well, so it’s going to be very competitive there,” Fisher said. “I’m pleased with where he is.”
Williams, who finds himself with a playoff team for the first time in his short career, has high hopes.
“They made it clear with us this thing’s open and the best guys are going to play. And that’s all you can ask for right now. I just want to put the best I can do on film and put my name in the hat. That’s all I can do,” Williams said.
Such talk was heard a year ago after Detroit traded Williams to Oakland for a fourth-round pick. It looked like a good fit as Raiders coach Lane Kiffin had recruited Williams to USC. Then Williams hurt his hamstring at the end of his first minicamp practice and didn’t practice again until training camp.
The Raiders cut Williams two days after he wiped out a third-down conversion with an illegal shift and followed up by dropping a pass on fourth-and-14 with 1:17 left in the game at Tennessee on Oct. 28. He left with seven catches for 90 yards in six games.
The Titans worked Williams out, then waited nearly a month to sign him even with his old college coordinator Norm Chow around. Williams played in two games, then was deactivated for the final four and Tennessee’s playoff loss to San Diego.
Then came his conversation with Fisher.
Asked if anyone had ever spoken so bluntly at either Detroit or Oakland, Williams deferred.
“We don’t use those names around here anymore. We’re not trying to live in the past. For everyone, my past is exactly that,” he said.
The Titans listed him as 230 pounds last season, the weight still on his bio at the league’s Web site. Tennessee now has Williams at 242, and the receiver said he’s within five to seven pounds of that mark and said he was over 260 “easy” last year.
Titans’ defensive back Chris Carr played with Williams in Oakland last season. He already has seen a difference in the receiver.
“He had to be a good 20 pounds heavier than he is now, and so he looks a lot faster and fluid now out there and not as stiff,” Carr said.