TAMPA — Mike Williams sprang high into the air with his arms extended, snatching a perfectly thrown football with his fingertips that Josh Freeman threaded like a needle between two converging defenders.
As Williams' momentum carried him to the back of the end zone, he spun 180 degrees, glanced down and stuck both feet on the ground, just a blade or two of grass inside the back line.
It was only the first day of Bucs minicamp, but the acrobatic play was reminiscent of Williams' first career touchdown in 2010.
At 6 feet 2, 212 pounds, Williams is a super-sized receiver. But his growth as a player last season, his second, stalled.
While Williams matched his rookie production with 65 receptions, his yards per catch fell from 14.8 to 11.9, his touchdowns plummeted from a team-high 11 to three, and his eight dropped passes were third in the league.
What's more, he wore down as the season wore on. In the final four games, Williams averaged two catches for 26.3 yards.
"Everybody asks me how I assess myself from last year. It just wasn't good enough," Williams, 24, said. "I've got to get better. A lot of us have got to get better, especially me."
Then during the offseason, the Bucs made receiver their top priority and signed seven-year veteran Vincent Jackson to a five-year, $55.55 million contract.
At 6-5, 240 pounds, Jackson is not only taller than Williams, but more of a baller. Jackson has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards three of the past four seasons in San Diego (he played only five games in 2010 due to a contract dispute) and averages 17.5 yards per catch in his career.
Jackson gives the Bucs a legitimate No. 1 receiver and will allow Williams more chances to work against single coverage.
But Jackson also has had a positive impact on the Bucs' young receivers.
"It's not just (making) big plays in practice," general manager Mark Dominik said. "It's his leadership and the style he practices and the way he really helps the younger players and continues to show the ropes and do everything the right way. Vincent Jackson has been a consummate professional from the first day we signed him."
Williams already has attached himself to Jackson and been impressed by his work ethic.
"I call him, 'Old Head,' " Williams said of Jackson. "He's like the vet out there. We get advice from each other but mostly from him. He's going out there and showing us what he's seen throughout his long career, his 1,000-yard seasons and his Pro Bowl seasons. He's letting us know what we're going to see. We're trying to work together as a group to compete.
"Basically, (he said) to keep working on my game. Don't ever think you've mastered it. Keep on working on it. If you catch a pass 1,000 times, he wants you to catch it 1,005."
What likely hurt Williams, 25, and other young players last season was the lack of offseason workouts due to the lockout. Williams appears to be in better shape this year. So does his game.
"It's like, 'Double (cover) someone now. We dare you,' " Williams said. "Having Vincent on the field, you get more confidence in a vet like that and him telling you what to do and how to do it. You get confidence, and we get out there with kind of a swagger."
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]