Paul Williams had a forgettable rookie year in the NFL.
All you have to do is look at the one word that appears beside every week on the stat sheet of his media guide bio to find out why — in big capital letters INACTIVE.
Williams, it seems, was in over his head at the NFL level, even as the Tennessee Titans’ third-round pick out of Fresno State last year.
“I was a scared rookie,” Williams said.
As such, Williams began 2008 for the receiver-needy Titans near the bottom of the depth chart. To be exact, he was running with the fourth team for most of the organized team activities and even the first several practices of training camp. The only players seemingly getting fewer reps were undrafted rookie Edward Williams and injured Roydell Williams.
But suddenly over the past few days, Williams’ practice time and productivity have both increased significantly. He nudged his way up to the third team as Mike Williams was demoted and eventually released, then in the past two practices with Justin McCareins out with hamstring tightness, found himself working on the second unit with Biren Ealy.
“Paul is much more comfortable in knowing what to do,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “And if Paul knows what to do, he’ll do it right and make the plays. He’s making a lot of plays that he didn’t make last year at this time.”
Williams’ ascent from no role at all a year ago into pressing for playing time in training camp is a direct product of hard work, study time and stronger self-confidence.
“I kind of know what to expect,” Williams said. “I see the field a little bit slower, and I can kind of get in the right spot, whereas last year I was kind of like a chicken with my head cut off.
“The more I go out there, I hope to instill confidence with the quarterbacks [in me] and kind of just climb my way up and be productive.”
Titans receivers coach Fred Graves said Williams has become the football equivalent of a “gym rat” this off-season, and it is paying off for him.
“He’s really done a great job,” Graves said. “If you give out an award, he may be the most improved player in that room right now. Last year, we had him playing one position and he was making a lot of mistakes, and wasn’t sure about himself. Now, he’s got two positions [both outside spots] down and he’s learning a third [slot]. He’s playing at a higher level.
“He’s come in, with him and Biren Ealy, sometimes I’ve got to kick them out of the office. They’re looking at tapes, they’re learning, they’re going through the playbook, so it makes a big difference.”
Coincidentally or not, Paul Williams’ ascent began to come just as Mike Williams, who caught many people’s attention with his play in the OTAs, was beginning to slide back off the Titans’ radar.
“In the last week, his confidence has just gotten better each day,” Graves said. “I’m not sure it was just because Mike was released, because even last week I could see that he’s just getting better, and that’s what you want.”
For Williams, he’d just like to get to a point where he knows he will not only be on the 53-man roster again, but perhaps active for the first time on game day.
He knows the best way to remove that word “INACTIVE” from next to his name can be summed up on one other word _ ACCOUNTABLE.
“I’m just trying to get out there and show the team and be accountable for the team and catch everything that comes to me,” Williams said. “Things are clicking right now. Any receiver can tell you, there’s up days and down days, but I just want to limit my down days and just be accountable.”