Mike Williams hasn’t played a down in almost three-and-a-half years. The 29-year-old weighs 404 pounds, almost 70 more than any other player on Washington’s roster.
There were guffaws from media members Sunday when Redskins coach Jim Zorn said the new 6-foot-6 right tackle candidate was “as big as two guys standing side by side.”
But Williams, a former All-American at Texas, isn’t worried about the skeptics. Whatever confidence he might have lacked after the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars cut him in consecutive offseasons has been restored by his loss of more than 40 pounds in the past 2 1/2 months and a renewed love for the game that made him rich.
Does he think he will start ahead of holdover right tackles Jon Jansen and Stephon Heyer?
“I didn’t come here not to,” Williams said.
Williams, selected fourth overall by the Buffalo in the 2002 draft, came to Washington in an unusual way. Pushing 450 pounds in February while running an oil services company, Williams decided to enroll in a fitness program at Duke to lose weight and become healthier. Around Easter, Williams and his wife, Enisha, moved in with former Texas linemate Derrick Dockery and the Redskins guard’s wife, their close friends, to take care of their goddaughter Madison while her parents were occupied with a baby due any day.
A reporter from Texas reached Williams on his cell phone for a where-are-they-now predraft story and wrote about his desire to play again once he got in shape and worked on football skills he hadn’t practiced in years. A Redskins official read the story Thursday and called Dockery to reach Williams, who worked out and signed the next day. He won’t participate in this weekend’s minicamp, but the Redskins hope he can lose 35 to 40 more pounds to reach his playing weight for the organized team activities that start June 1.
“I wanted something different for my life, just healthwise,” Williams said. “Then I’m like, ‘I’m feeling really good.’ I definitely missed playing. I know I still have the talent.”
Added Dockery: “I’m really excited for him. He has another chance to show people what he can do.”
The Bills, who gave Williams a $10.5 million signing bonus, never questioned his ability. He allowed just two sacks in 28 college starts. After an inconsistent rookie year, Williams played well in the second half of 2003. However, he skipped voluntary workouts and a mandatory day of training camp in 2004. Midway through 2005 while battling a high ankle sprain, Williams moved to left guard. The experiment failed - his last game was Nov. 27, 2005 - and the Bills cut him the following February to avoid a $10.8 million salary cap hit.
Williams wasn’t shocked or angry. He didn’t even cancel his Italian vacation to start job hunting. He knew another team would sign him when he returned, and the Jacksonville Jaguars did. A bad back limited Williams in preseason, landed him on injured reserve and prompted his release after the season. En route to a tryout with Oakland in 2007, Williams learned he needed back surgery. He decided to move on from football.
“I realized my gift is in football,” Williams said. “I was built for it. I know I can play this game. If you’re not… utilizing those abilities, you are a fish out of water. And that’s what I was in the business world. There was something missing. It does come down to a choice. Do you love it? You’ve got to choose to love this game. The grind, the time away from family, you’ve got to choose to love that.”
Williams made that choice and returned for a final shot. Redskins executive vice president Vinny Cerrato said he looked good during his workout and offered a minimum-salary contract.
“It’s a challenge, but I know I can do it,”Williams said. “I [hadn’t] kick-stepped or fired off the ball in three years, but when I was out there doing it [last week], it felt so natural. If I wasn’t what they wanted, I wouldn’t be here. That gives me confidence.”