A year ago, Mike Williams wasn’t just home for the holidays. He was home for good.
After three seasons outof the NFL, he weighed about 450 pounds and watched the games from his couch,his career apparently long over. But Sunday night on national television, Williams will start for the Washington Redskins against the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field.
“It’s gratifying to say, Yeah, I accomplished that,’ ” he said. “But there are so many more things I want to do.”
Williams is one of the few success stories of this bleak Redskins season. After losing 100 pounds, he struggled to make the team during the preseason and dealt with injury and performance issues at right tackle. Now, here he is, starting at right guard.
An NFL right tackle since Buffalo took him fourth in the 2002 draft, Williams has made a quick transition to guard and performed capablysince returning from an ankle injury. He has given assistance to a unit ripped apart by season-ending injuries to tackle Chris Samuels, guard Randy Thomas and others. “Right now,” he said, “I am loving playing guard.”
Still hefty at350 pounds, Williamsturns 30 in a few weeks. Except maybe to fill in, he is through as a tackle trying to block agile, quick pass rushers. He is better inside, in limited space,banging on larger, slower opponents.
“Big Mike’s doing good,” quarterback Jason Campbell said. “He expressed to me [that playing tackle] is too much stress on him because he’s not as quick on his feet as he used to bewith all these big, strong fast guys they’ve got now coming off the edge. He feels like he’s better inside because of his size and his strength. He can hold up better on the inside. And it’s working for him. You’ve got to be gratified for his honesty.”
Sometimes there is no avoiding the obvious.
“Gol-lee, I’m almost pushing 30 now,” Williamssaid, smiling. “I’m not as quick as I used to be.What this does is utilize my strength.”
A strong run blocker, Williams has had to learn the nuances of pass blocking as a guard, as well as new schemes andterminology. Nowhe lines up against big tackles about an inch away from his facemask as opposed to smaller ends and linebackers spreadwide.
“It’s really different,” he said. “At tackle, you’re dealing with faster ends, but things happen at the guard position a lot faster. Engaging with the defensive linemen happens a lot sooner.”
Playing guard “is made to order” for Williams, offensive line coach Joe Bugel said.
“He doesn’t have to chase that rabbit,” Bugel said. “He made a great transition. I think he’s at the point now where he knows he wasn’t a real good space player, trying to go on the edge and block those rushers with big-time speed.If he stays on pace and keeps his pace, I think he’ll be a real good football player.”
It’s unusual for a coach to speak of a veteran’s potential, but Williams is an atypicalveteran. After four undistinguished, injury-marred seasons in Buffalo,he was released. Hespent a brief time with Jacksonville during the 2006 season but never played, then wasout of the game until he showed up at Redskins training camp this season.