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Switch fits Terps’ Williams to a Z

- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2007

Maryland's Isaiah Williams was nursing a bowl of cereal last week when wide receivers coach Bryan Bossard approached him.

A tiring pair of practices were scheduled that day, and Bossard presented Williams with news that made things even more challenging: He would be switching positions with fellow wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Say goodbye to his time at X, a receiver who lines up closer to the sideline and is responsible for a great deal of run blocking. Say hello to Z, a wideout who usually lines up on the open side of the field and is provided plenty of space to create opportunities.

The shift is meant to allow Heyward-Bey some positioning flexibility and give redshirt freshman LaQuan Williams (a reserve at Z) a better chance to make an impact. But it is undeniably a better chance for Isaiah Williams to unlock his vast physical gifts.

"At the Z position, I'm not bored anymore — not to say I was bored before. I think this is a lot more fun than standing still and running routes," Williams said. "I get a chance to move around and play more, and I'm catching reverses, and I'm just having fun with this position."

At 6-foot-3, 197 pounds, Williams passes the visual test for what an impact receiver should look like. He oozes bravado, shrugging off concerns that someone else might usurp some of his playing time.

But in the first week of camp, coach Ralph Friedgen was blunt in his assessment of Williams, criticizing his blocking and suggesting he might be only a third-down wideout. That has changed since the switch to Z, though there remains a sense of impatience with the junior.

"He's more talented than Darrius," Bossard said. "I've told him that; I've told Darrius that — talking about God-given ability, running, catching the ball, speed, height. Darrius just outworks him, and that's why he's had all the success he's had."

Williams enjoyed some solid outings last year. He finished with 28 receptions for 379 yards and three touchdowns, occasionally showing a glimpse of the talent that would make him a perfect complement to Heyward-Bey and possession receiver Danny Oquendo.

The trouble is he was shut out three times as well.

"I thought last year when he had a good game, we were a much better offense because we had another go-to receiver," Friedgen said. "He has the ability. It's not a question of that. It's just the focus and determination. Hopefully, that will come with maturity."

Some of the disconnect comes down to personality. Friedgen talks about toughness so much it seems like he trademarked the word. Williams wears a self-assured grin and is usually willing to offer polished, candid assessments of nearly anything.

Both are stubborn in their own ways, and neither seems likely to change when mistakes occur in practice.

"There's nothing I can do," Williams said. "If I'm smiling at him, he's going to get [ticked] because he doesn't think I'm taking it seriously. If I'm frowning, he's going to think I'm feeling sorry for myself. I'd rather have him [ticked] because I'm happy than because I'm feeling sorry for myself."

Williams is in a better position to succeed than at any other time in his career. He doesn't have to worry as much about blocking, a facet of the game he admits is far from a forte. Friedgen said he's pleased with Williams' adaptation to Z and improvement in the last week.

"He can run good routes. He's just ..." Friedgen said, his voice trailing off. "Sometimes there's not a sense of urgency."

Perhaps that shouldn't be a concern. Williams still produces his share of amusing bluster, but mixed in is an understanding of what this year means to him.

"Honestly, this has to be my white Bronco," Williams said. "I've got to ride this one all the way in. This has got to be my chance. It's do or die right now, and I understand that."