TAMPA — On the surface, Mike Williams' 20-yard touchdown catch in Sunday's Bucs victory over the Seahawks looked like little more than a receiver running a good route and a stumbling cornerback unable to do anything to stop him.
But there was much more to it.
What you saw was Williams, a rookie, perfecting his craft. You saw the product of months of learning and improving. And you saw some of what gives Williams the potential to be great.
Williams is talented. He has impressive speed. And his hands are as reliable as most receivers'. But most important, Williams knows it takes more than that to succeed in the NFL.
"You have to understand that there are guys who have been doing this way before you got here," said Williams, 23. "There are guys who are going to the Hall of Fame and are places that you'll probably never get. So, you have to be mature to say, 'I did what I did in college. Now that's over.' You have to get better."
Which brings us back to the touchdown against Seattle cornerback Marcus Trufant. Williams used the latitude recently given him by offensive coordinator Greg Olson to vary how he runs his routes in an effort to fool the defense. That's not a privilege coaches typically give to rookies.
Williams baited and tricked Trufant. When the eight-year veteran realized he had been taken, he couldn't recover.
"(Olson) gives me freedom in my routes, and in the last four or five games, I've been taking advantage of that," Williams said. "Usually, receivers just go out there and just run their routes the regular way you're supposed to.
"I knew this corner was going to play me inside. So, I went inside, and I reversed (the route) to the outside. That messed his head up. … He's got me in one-on-one coverage, so he can't give me any (space). I gave him a move like I was going outside, and he bit. Then it was over."
Williams ended up breaking inside and running a skinny post route, the unexpected move leaving Trufant barely able to keep his feet while trying to change directions.
The freedom Olson and receivers coach Eric Yarber have given Williams is a response to the attention the rookie has drawn from defenses during his impressive season. With teams using safeties to double team Williams, the Bucs found it was becoming increasingly difficult to get him the ball.
It became a test of Williams' ability. Williams has learned that what he does off the field — commitment in the film room and on the practice field — will be the difference.
"He's becoming what we call a true pro," Olson said. "He's trying to study his craft and master his craft. He watches other players, and he's very critical of himself."
Coach Raheem Morris said that before Williams was drafted in the fourth round out of Syracuse, "I'm not sure if he has ever been a football junkie that came and watched a bunch of tape and studied himself.
"He's really becoming that total football player."
Olson and Yarber have emphasized that with Williams. In the offseason, the staff put together a DVD for Williams that had every 2009 catch from several receivers whose games Williams' resembles. Among them: the Dolphins' Brandon Marshall, the Bengals' Terrell Owens and the Texans' Andre Johnson. Williams has been incorporating aspects of their games since.
Williams has expanded his film study of defenders, too.
"I try to see what corners have gotten beat on before and how they got beat," he said. "Then I'm going to duplicate it. I'm a big film guy. Just watching film and understanding little things like that are helping me get open a little bit more."
It's paying off. Two weeks ago against Detroit, Williams had one of his best games, catching six passes for 96 yards. Sunday against Seattle, he had his first multitouchdown game, reaching the end zone twice.
He leads all rookies with 61 receptions, 924 yards and 10 touchdowns. If he reaches 1,000 yards, he'll become the eighth rookie to amass 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, a group that includes Mike Ditka, Bob Hayes and Randy Moss.
"(Williams) has good football savvy," Yarber said. "I've told him about playing the game within the game, and he applies it out on the field.
"Talent alone is not enough."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com.