Thursday, August 16, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Williams hopes to revert to rookie form

TAMPA — After last season, Mike Williams wants to save face. His is disappearing behind a bushy black beard.

But it is not thick enough to hide his talent.

After another solid practice this week, including Williams picking the pocket of rookie safety Mark Barron to turn an interception into a drive-saving completion, Williams was asked if he plans to keep his facial hair.

"It's up to (general manager) Mark Dominik," Williams said. "But he says it's looking like good luck right now, so I'm going to keep it."

Appearances aside, there's no disguising that last season, Williams, 25, didn't look like the player he was in 2010, when the fourth-round draft pick from Syracuse led rookies with 11 touchdown receptions. He caught 65 passes, the same as his rookie year, but for 771 yards, 193 fewer, and three touchdowns.

Bucs receivers coach P.J. Fleck said he expects Williams to bounce back.

"The first words I think about with Mike is his transformation and commitment," Fleck said. "That has a lot to do with (the arrival of free agent receiver) Vincent Jackson. It has a lot to do with him wanting to be great."

Jackson, 29, a two-time Pro Bowl pick with the Chargers who signed a five-year, $55.5 million free agent contract in March, immediately embraced his role as mentor to the Bucs' young wideouts.

Fleck ordered Williams to sit next to Jackson during meetings so he could get a bird's-eye view of his intricate note-taking.

"If you truly want it, there is a price to pay," he said. "And a lot of people will pay the price for a little bit. And when it gets uncomfortable, they'll stop. Mike, when it got uncomfortable, has found a way to break through the barriers that once were there and went to the next step on the mountain. And if keeps doing that, I think he's going to like what he sees at the end."

Williams already is enjoying his view of opposing defenses. In last week's preseason opener, the Dolphins, wary of Jackson's ability to stretch the field, rolled coverage to Jackson's side, sometimes leaving Williams one on one with the cornerback. Once in the Bucs' 20-7 win, Williams took a simple hitch, made cornerback Sean Smith miss and raced 18 yards to set up a touchdown.

"He's been a sponge," Jackson said of Williams. "He's taken to coaching. He's become such a better receiver in the last few months, watching him put in the work and buy in."

At 6 feet 1, 212 pounds, Williams relies on strength more than speed to get separation. Former coaches say he gained weight during the lockout last summer. There is debate about how much Williams weighed, perhaps as much as 218.

Williams disputes that, but there's no denying he wore down last season, averaging two catches for 26.2 yards over the final four games. He also was among the league leaders in dropped passes.

"The lockout killed us last year," Williams said. "We didn't have what we have this offseason, where we're all working with each other, running with each other, sprinting through the line. Instead of everybody going home, we're all up here running and working out."

Williams said he's in the best shape of his life and back to making circus-like catches.

"I remember Mike when he was at Syracuse," said Bucs coach Greg Schiano, previously at Rutgers. "He is a great hand-eye coordination guy. Then he's strong. Those acrobatic catches, you can train hand-eye coordination, but there's a certain level you can reach. This guy, he's been blessed that way."

Can Williams return to his rookie form?

"I want to be at a higher level," he said. "I feel like I'm putting the work in now, watching extra film, knowing what the coverage is, working with Vincent on extra things. I don't want to get to a level I've already been at. I want to exceed that level."

As Williams knows, the difference between success and failure is razor thin.

Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected] and can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.

Locker gets his shot

QB Jake Locker, whom the Titans picked eighth overall in the 2011 draft, will start tonight against the Bucs. "It's great to have the opportunity," he said. Incumbent Matt Hasselbeck started last week, and Locker followed by going 7-of-13 for 80 yards against a mixture of Seattle starters and backups. Coach Mike Munchak said he hopes to make a decision about a No. 1 after this game.

Comments
Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota meet again. Sort of.

Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota meet again. Sort of.

NASHVILLE — Here at the intersection of Marcus Mariota Place and Jameis Winston Way, the quarterbacks of the Titans and Bucs continued to go in different directions.During the teams' joint workout Wednesday, the quarterbacks never got closer th...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Bucs receivers come out ‘smoking’ hot against Titans

Bucs receivers come out ‘smoking’ hot against Titans

NASHVILLE — DeSean Jackson turned Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler around and hauled in a deep pass from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick during one-on-one drills. Mike Evans leaped over Logan Ryan, plucking the ball with two hands off the top of t...
Published: 08/15/18
Bucs pleasantly surprised at what a great leader they got in Jason Pierre-Paul

Bucs pleasantly surprised at what a great leader they got in Jason Pierre-Paul

NASHVILLE — The Bucs didn't know what they were getting when they traded for Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. They believed he would be a good pass rusher to help the league's worst defense.But they got so much more.The Bucs have been im...
Published: 08/15/18
This Buc was named to ESPN’s Perfect 53-Man NFL Roster

This Buc was named to ESPN’s Perfect 53-Man NFL Roster

If you were putting together the NFL's Perfect 53-Man Roster, you might overlook the Bucs altogether.If you were inclined to include a player, you might consider defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Or wide receiver Mike Evans. Linebacker Lavonte Davi...
Published: 08/15/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Tony Dungy’s message to the Bucs

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Tony Dungy’s message to the Bucs

During a news conference Tuesday in Tampa, Tony Dungy spoke about what it means to him to be added to the Bucs Ring of Honor and what he told the current players when he spoke with them.Plus, Rick Stroud is in Tennessee, where the Bucs are getting re...
Published: 08/15/18
Bucs GM Jason Licht pays tribute to a mentor and friend

Bucs GM Jason Licht pays tribute to a mentor and friend

Perhaps nobody in pro football has had a bigger impact on Bucs general manager Jason Licht than Tom Heckert, Jr., who died Aug. 3 at age 51 after a long battle with amyloidosis. Heckert spent four years as the Broncos pro personnel director, helping ...
Published: 08/15/18
Bucs could use another Tony Dungy to spark culture change

Bucs could use another Tony Dungy to spark culture change

TAMPA —  It seems a little odd, but Tony Dungy is just now being installed in the Bucs' Ring of Honor, two years after his bust was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Leave it to his former team.As if it matters to this man. Dungy...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/15/18
Tony Dungy addresses Bucs and tells them the devil is in the details

Tony Dungy addresses Bucs and tells them the devil is in the details

Tony Dungy's team's were known for being disciplined and not beating themselves with penalties and blown assignments. But the ones that reached the postseason or went deep into the playoffs always played the game the right way.When Dungy addressed Bu...
Published: 08/14/18
Dungy says 2018 Bucs have talent, but need togetherness

Dungy says 2018 Bucs have talent, but need togetherness

Former Bucs coach Tony Dungy, set to be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor next month, talked with the current team for about 20 minutes on Tuesday morning, stressing the importance of them coming together this season."They have to have that toge...
Published: 08/14/18
Tony Dungy on NFL and protests during anthem: Listen to why it matters to players

Tony Dungy on NFL and protests during anthem: Listen to why it matters to players

Tony Dungy says the issue of NFL players protesting during the national anthem has been a divisive topic, but he hopes both sides can come together by listening to why players care enough to choose to protest."We really have to understand what these ...
Published: 08/14/18