GREEN BAY — Joe Whitt is not one for hyperbole.
So when the Green Bay Packers cornerbacks coach compares the way Tramon Williams played during the second half of last season to the way the Packers veteran cornerback played during the 2010 season — when he elevated himself into the conversation as one of the NFL's elite cover men — you know he's not just saying that because it sounds good.
"Really, the last nine games — he played as good as everybody talked about 2010," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "From the New York game on, if you're looking for much better play than that, you're not going to get it from anybody in the league. Now, can we get it for 16 games and onto the playoffs and next year? I'm a firm believer if he's healthy, we're going to get it."
Much has changed for the now 31-year-old Williams since he was tilting the field in the Packers' favor in 2010 — especially during the team's Super Bowl XLV playoff run. He is now among the team's longest-tenured players, and fellow cornerback Sam Shields (four-year, $39 million deal) surpassed Williams (five-year, $38.148 million extension in November 2010) as the team's highest-paid defensive back.
And, of course, there was the debilitating shoulder injury he suffered in the 2011 regular-season opener against New Orleans that left him playing with one arm tied behind his back for most of that season and much of 2012.
"Truthfully, I don't even worry about it," Williams said of his shoulder now. "From my point, when I put in the work that I do, whatever the results are, I can live with it. Do I expect to play at a high level? Do I feel good? Absolutely. But you never know what happens."
Given how he was playing late last year, there's more certainty about how he'll play in 2014 than there is about where he'll be after this season. He's entering the final year of that 2010 extension, and with younger talent at the position (Shields, Casey Hayward, trial safety Micah Hyde and Davon House, who is also entering a contract year), it's possible he will be working elsewhere in 2015.
"You always wonder. Coming from my perspective, I'd never been injured up until the shoulder injury, so that was new to me, something different to fight," Williams said. "I got through that, and I'm still feeling great. I feel like I can go for as long as I want."
But for now, he's focused on replicating — and improving upon — last season, when he played more snaps on defense (1,124 in 17 games) than any other player, and finished the year with 91 tackles (according to the Packers' official stats) along with three interceptions and 14 pass breakups while playing all 16 regular-season games. He then had an interception (after which he ran over San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick) and a pair of tackles in the season-ending playoff loss to the 49ers at Lambeau Field.
According to Pro Football Focus. Williams finished having been targeted 93 times, allowing 53 completions for 714 yards with four touchdowns allowed (78.0 opponent passer rating). PFF charged him with 10 missed tackles while crediting him with three quarterback hurries and three QB hits along with his two sacks when blitzing from the nickel spot. He showed no signs of the nerve damage that had limited him.
The game when Williams truly looked like his old self was on Nov. 17 against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium — the same place where he'd drawn criticism the year before for whatsome thought was turning down a tackle
. Although the Packers lost, Williams was their best player, registering eight tackles, including two for loss and picking off Eli Manning for his first INT of the season.
"That New York game might be one of the best games he's played since we've worked together — out of all of them," Whitt said. "You might go back to the Atlanta game in 2010 in the playoffs, but that New York game, he tackled at such a high level, he played fast. He played at a speed quicker than most other people, and he said it going into the game. He said, 'Joe, I'm not worried about anything.' And that's the way he played. 'Whatever's going to happen is going to happen; I'm just going to play all-out and I'm not worried about trying to be perfect. I'm just going to play football.'"