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Even after strong rookie season, Mike Williams has more to show Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans


As pass routes go, his was kind of tricky.

First, he had to get off the line in a hurry. He had to juke left at those who wondered about his ability. He had to cut hard past those who questioned his character. He had to run past those who wondered if he could make such an impact so soon.

And there he was, running free and clear toward the goal line.

A few more steps, and by golly, Mike Williams could be a star.

He is young, and he is talented, and he has the power to change the scoreboard. In his first season, we learned that about Williams. He is fleet, and he is athletic, and his hands have a grip like a politician's. He was good, and he was likeable, and he was in a hurry to be better.

That much, you have seen from Williams. So far, however, you have not seen it all.

And in the route to success, that may be the best news of all.

"Last year, he was running on raw ability," said Eric Yarber, the Bucs receivers coach. "You didn't see all of his athletic ability. I'd say you saw about 70 percent. Maybe 75."

"I'd say about 60 percent," Williams said.

"He had a good year," Yarber said. "I'd give him a B."

"Maybe a C," Williams said. "Maybe a C-plus."

Perhaps you would rank his season higher. Williams was a starter in the Bucs lineup before his cab left the parking lot, and his impact was immediate. He finished the season with 65 catches and 964 yards. His 11 touchdown receptions were the most by a rookie since Randy Moss in 1998. Just as important, he dispelled the questions about his character that dropped him to the fourth round of the NFL draft. He was likeable, and he was coachable.

Despite it all, the season doesn't seem to impress Williams as much as it does the rest of us.

"I'd say it was a pretty good year," Williams said, shrugging slightly. "But my goal is to win and win and win, and we didn't get into the playoffs. I don't consider that a great year.

"I could have done more. I was a little nervous. I was scared to make a mistake, scared to make a play. I was so timid, I was trying to go out and do the right thing. Now, I'm going to go there to make the play. If I make a mistake, I make a mistake. But I'm going to do it at full speed."

Also, it appears, he will do it from different angles. The Bucs want Williams to know all of the receiver positions this year so they can move him around the field to avoid double teams. Late last year, Yarber says, opponents started to double team Williams.

"They showed me tapes of (Cardinals receiver) Larry Fitzgerald," Williams said. "When he was playing one position, they could double team him. When they started moving him around, it was harder on the defense."

Does that mean that stardom is guaranteed for Williams? Of course not. Receiver can be a funny position. In his rookie season, Michael Clayton caught 80 passes for the Bucs; the next year, he caught 32. Antonio Bryant caught 83 in his first year with the Bucs; 39 in his second. Bert Emanuel caught 41 his first season here; 22 the next.

Williams will have to learn to adjust to cornerbacks who will be more prepared for him. He will have to learn to handle disappointment, and he will have to learn to handle success. He will have to stay humble in the hardest position in the NFL to do so.

And yet, it is hard not to like his chances. He has such athleticism going for the ball, and he has Josh Freeman at quarterback, and he is hungry. Williams has a chance to be a very big deal around here.

"If he continues to take care of his body, if he continues to learn about the nuances of receiver play, he can be in the top 10, top five (receivers in the NFL)," Yarber said.

"One thing about Mike, though, is that he wants to be in the top five. … He's a perfectionist. If he lines up wrong in practice, he gets (peeved) at himself. If he drops a pass in warm-ups, he'll say, 'I can't grade 100 percent today.' "

Year 2, and the kid is wiser. He knows his position. He knows the expectations. After catching "more than 1,000" passes from Freeman in the offseason, he knows his quarterback.

"Last year, we were trying to be friends," he said. "Now, we are. And it's better to catch a ball from a friend than someone you don't know."

Last season, he learned this about the NFL: Opposing secondaries are very fast and very smart and very quick to make adjustments.

Last season, he learned this about Mike Williams: He belongs.

"I found out I could play in the NFL," Williams said. "I always knew I had a chance, but I never knew I could be a player in the NFL, that I could go out there and do the things that Andre Johnson and Randy Moss and Percy Harvin do. I belong here. I can play here.

"I'm trying to be the tip top. The best. The best ever to do this. I want to break every record I can and get to as many Super Bowls as possible. I think if I keep working, if I keep watching what other players did, I can duplicate it."

Second time around, and what should fans anticipate from Williams? How about "more"? More catches. More yardage. More impact.

When a guy is running toward stardom, what else would you expect?

Even after strong rookie season, Mike Williams has more to show Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans 08/01/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 6:40am]
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