When his once sure hands began to betray him and his confidence started to evaporate last season, Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams had virtually no one but then-position coach Eric Yarber to turn to for help.
A second-year pro in a corps of wideouts whose elder statesmen was Micheal Spurlock, a seldom-used journeyman with 21 catches over four NFL seasons, Williams was all but left to work out his problems on his own.
When Tampa Bay signed seven-year veteran deep threat Vincent Jackson to a five-year, $55.555 million contract on the first day of free agency, they did so as much for his ability to help youngsters like Williams as his speed.
And already they are reaping the benefits. After the team's first voluntary offseason workout at One Buc Place last week, Williams said Vincent has quickly proved to be a go-to guy for the Bucs young pass catchers.
"We still get advice from each other, too, but it's mostly coming from him now," Williams said. "He's been showing us a lot of what he's seen throughout his long career and his 1,000-yard seasons and his Pro Bowl seasons.''
Williams came close to putting together a 1,000-yard season as a rookie in 2010, when he caught 64 passes for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns, the most by a Bucs receiver in a single season.
He slipped badly in 2011, however. Though he once again caught 65 passes, the byproducts were 771 yards, three touchdowns and plenty of questions about his competitiveness, focus and future as a potential No.1 wideout.
With Jackson's help, Williams believes he already has some of the tools necessary to get back on the track he was riding in 2010, when he was a finalist for offensive rookie of the year honors.
"He's been letting us know what we're going to see (from opposing defenses), and he's basically been telling me to just keep working on my game,'' Williams said. "You can't ever think you've mastered it.
"No matter what, you have to keep on working on it. If you catch a pass 1,000 times, he wants you to catch it 1,005 times. So just keep working on my game is basically what I've learned from him."
Good to know you
A quick scan of the Bucs' 90-man roster shows that no school is more represented than Rutgers, which is of course the school coach Greg Schiano was at prior to joining Tampa Bay.
Including C Jeremy Zuttah and DE George Johnson, Rutgers holdovers from last year's squad, the Bucs have seven former Scarlet Knights.
The second most-represented school, with six players, is North Carolina, which just happens to be the school Schiano's special assistant, Butch Davis, coached at before he was fired last year.
All of the Bucs' former Knights and all but one of the former Tar Heels played for Schiano and Davis, respectively, in college, but Schiano said his new team is not showing favoritism to players he is familiar with.
"If a guy is available and I think they have a chance to help us (we'll try to sign him),'' Schiano said. "But it will never be because of my previous relationships. That will never cloud my vision on what's best with the Buccaneers.
"And that's exactly what I share with them. I tell them that I want them to be here and I want this to work because I appreciate your skills and your work ethic, but at the end of the day I have one responsibility and that's to the Buccaneers."
Making up for lost time
Schiano was the last of the NFL's seven new head coaches to be hired, but he seems to have made up for lost time. On Tuesday, when he began the third, final and most laborious phase of the Bucs' offseason workout program, Schiano said 85 percent of all the team's new plays had been installed.
With only about 15 percent of the offensive and defensive plays left to install, Schiano said the 11 workouts the team will conduct between now and the end of their three-day mandatory minicamp in mid-June will be devoted mostly to situational football and making the team smarter.