- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS — If Washington is going to acquire the smallish Santana Moss to be a starting wideout, the Redskins likely are going to have to go big for their other receiver. That could well be Mike Williams.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound former Southern Cal standout generally is considered the second-best receiver in the 2005 draft — behind Michigan’s Braylon Edwards — even though Williams hasn’t been on the field since 2003.

After catching 176 passes — including a school-record 30 touchdowns — in just two seasons for the Trojans, Williams got caught in the wake of Maurice Clarett’s ill-fated challenge to the NFL’s policy that players can’t be drafted until three years after they graduated from high school.

Williams followed Clarett’s example, left USC and hired an agent. Not only was Williams, like Clarett, ultimately not allowed to enter last year’s draft, but the NCAA ruled he couldn’t return to college even though he had cut his ties to the agent.

“There’s probably 20 minutes of last year that I really was down, that I really felt like I had the world on my shoulders,” Williams said. “When I didn’t know if I was going to get back in school or not, I was getting calls from coaches at SC, wondering how I was doing, how I was holding up … as soon as they found out I couldn’t get back into school. But I was definitely blessed with a family that was there for me the whole time.”

Williams said the year off has been a blessing in some ways.

“The biggest thing to my advantage was I spent the last few months making the transition to the next level a lot easier, compared to just worrying about how fast I could run,” Williams said. “Emotionally, I’m ready to go. Last year I was in such a rush just to get ready for my workout, that’s all I was worried about doing, just working out. I’ve had a year — I’ve met with doctors, met with physicians, met with trainers — to really understand my body. I spent November and December at 216 pounds, but I just didn’t feel as explosive. I didn’t have my kind of my football swagger about myself.”

Williams, like many elite players in recent drafts, opted not to hit the field at the scouting combine here, saving himself for his personal workout on March10. However, NFL coaches and general managers don’t believe his year off will affect Williams’ fine hands or his ability to make leaping catches or grabs in traffic.

“You go back to the tape and that doesn’t change,” Baltimore coach Brian Billick said. “He had an incredibly productive year that last year with USC. There’s no reason to think what you saw [has changed]. You’re going to have a pretty good idea of what his abilities are. But there are some real questions. Obviously, not working out [here]. You have to take that leap of faith. Even with all that I imagine he’s going to be a pretty high pick.”

New York Jets coach Herman Edwards credited Williams for preparing himself for this audition. Edwards added the interviews probably would be more important for him than the workouts. If that’s true, then Williams should be a top-10 pick.

“I put the team first,” Williams said. “The thing that I’ll bring to any team is a winning attitude. I play hard, I compete hard, I try to make plays, I try to be a good person in the media … really just bring back a little of how the game used to be, like when Barry Sanders played and those guys.”

That was only 1998, but when you’re 21-years-old, seven years ago is one-third of your life. In any case, Williams, despite less than blazing speed, might have some of that Sanders-type magic.

“Mike is about as gifted as anyone I’ve ever seen,” said Georgia quarterback David Greene, who has been working out in Atlanta with Williams. “He’s caught quite a few balls he wasn’t supposed to catch and you just go, ‘Wow.’”

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