[img_r]http://cmsimg.greenbaypressgazette.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=U0&Date=20081021&Category=PKR01&ArtNo=81021157&Ref=AR&Profile=1058&MaxW=150&Border=0[/img_r]Going into training camp, defensive backs coach Kurt Schottenheimer endorsed Tramon Williams as a starting-caliber cornerback for the Green Bay Packers.
Given Williams sound play in the last four games while starter Al Harris has recovered from a torn spleen, the Packers have more reason to think Williams can be a worthy successor to Harris or Charles Woodson in the next couple of years in their demanding bump-and-run coverage scheme.
Definitely, Schottenheimer said Tuesday. Hes a very, very talented kid that has tremendous work ethic, and its like any young player, they have to have an opportunity to perform. What you hope is they get better with each experience. Hes done that. Hes certainly got a bright future.
Williams probably will lose his starting role over this weekends bye because Harris is expected back from his injury for the next game, Nov. 2 at Tennessee.
However, seeing Williams' development in game settings is important to the Packers both for the present, because he still will be on the field for about half the defensive snaps as the No. 3 cornerback, and for the future.
Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders scheme is predicated on having cornerbacks who excel in press coverage. The Packers' accomplished starters are approaching the end of their careers. Harris is 33, Woodson 32. So, General Manager Ted Thompson will have to keep the position well stocked for their departures.
Thompson has two young draftees in Will Blackmon (fourth round, 2006) and Pat Lee (second round, 2008) as developmental prospects, and he probably will add a cornerback or two every offseason because the position is among the most valuable in the game. Blackmon and Lee are relatively untested Blackmon has been the nickel back while Harris has been out, Lee the No. 4 cornerback whereas Williams has produced as a starter for one-quarter of the season.
Williams hardly has been error-free hes given up his share of receptions and blew a coverage last week against Indianapolis that allowed Anthony Gonzalez a 37-yard reception.
But overall, with Williams in Harris place the past four games, the Packers pass defense didnt decline noticeably. It played its best game of the season last week against Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, one of the NFLs premier players.
Manning finished with an abysmal 46.6 passer rating for several reasons, but as important as any was Williams and Blackmons physical press coverage on outside receivers Gonzalez and Marvin Harrison. Woodson usually matched up with the Colts best receiver, Reggie Wayne, in the slot.
Clearly, there was a great deal of stress on our outside corners in this ballgame because of Peytons ability to throw the ball on the mark down the field, Schottenheimer said. If you looked at the Baltimore game (against Indianapolis the previous week), that tape, good gracious, it was scary. Our ability to stay in good leverage and good position on those guys was critical. I thought the play of the corners was the key.
Williams barely surpasses the Packers minimum height standards for a cornerback they require cornerbacks to be at least 5-foot-10, and hes 5-11 and he has a relatively slight build at 191 pounds. But he also probably is their fastest player at that position, has quickness and good leaping ability, and plays the ball well in the air. He showed all those skills in his two interceptions while in the starting lineup.
The first came against Atlanta, when he ranged off his man on what momentarily looked like an easy 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ben Hartsock. Safety Nick Collins bit too hard on a run fake on the play, which left Hartsock uncovered, but Williams saw him in his peripheral vision and darted for the corner of the end zone. Williams closed quickly and snagged quarterback Matt Ryans soft pass with one hand.
I was trying to make a play or force the quarterback to make a harder throw than a wide-open throw, Williams said. As I watched him, I thought maybe they had more field, but they didnt. (Ryan) didnt under throw him, but he didnt throw it fast enough.
On the second interception, at Seattle, he blanketed former Packers receiver Koren Robinson on a go route and after locating the ball, used his inside position as a shield for the easy interception.
It was basically textbook bump-and-running down the field, Williams said.
That Williams has developed into a possible starter is a surprise, because the Packers pro scouting staff plucked him off the street in late November 2006. Hed gone undrafted that year coming out of Louisiana Tech, signed with Houston as a free agent and was cut at the end of training camp.
He finished the season on the Packers practice squad, then made big gains in offseason workouts and practices and won a roster spot in 2007, when he started one game in a nickel package.
Though Williams isnt as big or strong as Harris (6-1, 190) and Woodson (6-1, 202), hes been physical enough to disrupt receivers routes at the line of scrimmage, then use his athletic ability to stay with them on their routes. He also has the temperament NFL teams look for in a cornerback, the ability to immediately shake off getting burned and stay aggressive the next play.
When he first showed up here, I didnt know a thing about him, Schottenheimer said, and I didnt see anything that had me all excited about him. But Speedy (cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington) said to me, This guys got something Schotts. I said, I havent seen it yet.
"He was on the practice squad that year. Then in the offseason, you watch him work, Speedy, youre right, this guys got some athletic ability. With that great work ethic, whatever skills this guys got, hes going to develop them.