Trent Williams can’t look back.
The Washington Redskins left tackle won’t watch tape from his rookie season because “it just wasn’t good.” So much changed from 2010 to now.
“My approach to the game’s changed. My knowledge of the game has changed. By looking at my film from a couple years ago, I’m ashamed of it, I’m embarrassed by it,” Williams said. “To be a rookie, it was OK. But I try to hold myself to a higher standard.”
Getting to that higher standard took time and missteps along the way. Now Williams is not only going to the Pro Bowl later this month, but he’s arguably the most valuable piece of an offense that includes prolific rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris and game-changing receiver Pierre Garcon.
Of 1,024 offensive snaps in the regular season, Williams played 961. He missed one snap in the season opener and 62 Sept. 23 with a bone bruise in his right knee.
The 24-year-old has played through a deep left thigh bruise since Thanksgiving Day, and that’s by necessity.
“I just feel like for me to be a huge asset to this team, I have to play hurt and I have to be able to finish games,” Williams said. “I take a lot of pride in it. But I take pride in playing hurt just because it’s football. You have to be tough to play this sport. There’s nothing more than playing hurt. There’s nothing more you could prove to say you’re tough enough to be fit to play this sport.”
There’s little left for Williams to prove to his teammates, who voted him captain the past two seasons. Watching him play hurt and mature since a four-game suspension last season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy validated that faith.
“He’s not just a great player, but he’s someone that we lean on,” left guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. “I think him being elected captain after the year that he had last year says a lot about what he means to us and how people follow him.”
“I don’t ever act as if he’s not there,” Griffin said. “On the field, during the game, he’ll get up, he’ll start grabbing something and I’ll look at him and I’ll go back to the huddle because I know he better get his butt back in the huddle because you’ve got to go the next play.”
That’s a departure from a couple of years ago, when an injury as painful as this thigh bruise might have landed Williams on season-ending injured reserve. Just like veteran linebacker London Fletcher playing through his ankle injury, there’s no doubt Williams will be on the field Sunday afternoon against the Seattle Seahawks for his first playoff game.
“He’s not at his best because he’s not at 100 percent, but he’s definitely helped the team being out there,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “He believes that no matter how bad he’s feeling, as long as he’s not going to risk his career or anything, he feels he can get out there and compete and help us win.”
Williams called it a matter of “heart.”
“When your body feels pain, you automatically want to shut down and it’s not an easy thing to play though, especially when you’re playing against people who get paid millions to beat you,” Williams said.
That “heart” has grown stronger since two years ago, when Williams had to sit down and reflect on how much he needed to focus on football to be successful. As the No. 4 pick in the draft, he conceded his life changed so much it was hard to concentrate.
To excel in this job, though, he had no choice but to embrace high expectations, internally and externally.
“It definitely was a lot of pressure. Definitely a lot of pressure. But no, I wouldn’t change anything,” Williams said. “To [whom] much is given, much is expected. I thank God for that position because it helped me learn a lot, and I definitely, definitely don’t take anything for granted now.”
Certainly not being a Pro Bowl offensive tackle, an honor he made no secret he wanted. Upon learning of his first selection, Williams couldn’t stop smiling.
But it’s far from mission accomplished.
“As a player you strive to be great, and this is just a process of that,” Williams said. “Five years down the line, I want it to be a consensus that I am the best tackle in the game. I’m going to continue to work hard until I reach that goal.”
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