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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs WR Williams ready to bounce back after 2011 slump

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 10:37 PM
TAMPA -

Inside the wide receivers meeting room at One Buc Place, the rules coach P.J. Fleck laid down are a little different for Mike Williams than the other Tampa Bay wideouts.

For example, all of the others can sit wherever they choose, but Williams has an assigned seat. It's the one right next to two-time Pro Bowl veteran Vincent Jackson.

Williams also has been given license to do something that is usually frowned upon in classroom settings: He can cheat off Jackson's paper. In fact, Fleck encourages the practice.

"That's why I want them sitting right next to each other,'' Fleck said. "I want Mike to look at Vincent's notes because Vincent is so meticulous. He's a great guy to learn from.''

Williams seems to be learning quickly. Fleck described his work ethic both on and off the field as "great so far,'' and Williams' performance in camp workouts has consistently drawn raves from the most important coach of all.

"Certainly, that last play he made (Wednesday), that's an NFL play right there,'' head coach Greg Schiano said of a touchdown pass Williams caught in the back corner of the end zone to finish a two-minute drill. "That's what we need to be able to do.''

It's something Williams, in particular, needs to do. After leading NFL rookie receivers with 65 catches for 964 yards and a team record 11 touchdowns in 2010, Williams struggled to find the end zone last season. Though he again caught 65 balls for a respectable 771 yards, Williams reached the end zone only three times in 2011.

He is not at a loss as to why.

Having established himself the year before as a legitimate scoring threat, Williams said he received a lot of extra attention from opposing defenses last year. He admits he wasn't really prepared for it.

"I wasn't getting any more one-on-ones,'' Williams said. "I was facing all Cover 2 (zones) and teams pushing coverage to my side and putting their best corner on me with a safety over the top, and I just didn't adjust to it well enough. My route running wasn't good enough.''

Fleck noticed the problem with Williams' routes as soon as he turned on the tape to start studying him. Fixing the problem, though, required more than just a few tweaks in his mechanics.

"He was running too straight up and down, not bending at the hips and knees,'' Fleck said. "You have to do that because when you play low your body always looks like it's moving faster than it is and it stresses the defender.

"But a habit like that a guy has had for maybe 10 years is hard to break, because it's only going to happen if the guy is committed to it. But Mike has been. He's done that and he's been great.''

Williams' commitment came into question last offseason. Citing unnamed team staff members, a WalterFootball report said Williams struggled last year, in part, because he fell asleep in meetings and a weight-loss issue zapped his strength.

Former Bucs wide receivers coach Eric Yarber told The Tampa Tribune during the offseason that he "never had a problem with Williams falling asleep in meetings'' and that Williams was always one of his hardest workers.

Williams, meanwhile, called the report about his strength "a complete lie that somebody made up.''

"I don't know how that got started,'' said Williams, who weighed in this season at 212 pounds, the same as in 2011. "Maybe that's just someone trying to find an excuse for me because I didn't get in the end zone as much as I did my rookie year, but that's not true at all.

"My weight never changed and I was still in tune with the game plan. I was still watching film, still getting out there and doing what I needed to do to get better. I just had a bad season.''

The NFL lockout also contributed to his struggles, Williams said. The inability to work regularly with coaches prohibited him from erasing some of the bad habits he developed, particularly as a route runner.

Those habits are all but gone now. In their place are some new habits, not the least of which is his penchant for doing just about everything Jackson does in the classroom and on the field.

"He's a two-time Pro Bowler, so why wouldn't you follow a guy like that,'' Williams said. "It's not just me he's helping. He's helping all the receivers and I think we're all going to benefit from it.''


rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979

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