GREEN BAY – It didn’t happen often in 2011. There weren’t many times when Tramon Williams looked like he had in 2010. But one of those times came on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit.
Reduced to a shell of his former shutdown corner self by nerve damage in his right shoulder suffered in the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against New Orleans, Williams struggled with being physical – both at the line of scrimmage, when jamming receivers in man-to-man press coverage, and when tackling receivers after the catch.
But on Thanksgiving, defensive coordinator Dom Capers designed a game plan that called for him to take Lions All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson one on one, and while Johnson caught a late, meaningless touchdown, he was a non-factor the rest of the game. Johnson, who caught 96 passes for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season – and had a huge game in the regular-season finale against the Packers with 244 receiving yards – caught just four passes for 49 yards, including only one pass for 5 yards against Williams. The 3-yard touchdown with 11 seconds left that Johnson caught was the fault of safety Morgan Burnett, who failed to provide inside help for Williams.
“I think it was a combination of, me starting to feel better, my confidence going up because I started to feel better, and Dom understanding my situation and putting me in good situations.” Williams said during a visit to Green & Gold Today last month when asked about that game. “I think it was all of the above. I think it was one of those games where I flashed what I could do. Obviously I wasn’t able to do it on a consistent basis all year, but I know what I can do – and I plan on doing it.
“Going back to 2010, that was a heck of a season. To repeat that is hard, but consistently, I think I can do that. I dropped off in my play last year, but at the same time, with my situation, I felt I was still productive. Was it frustrating? Yeah, but I was encouraged at the same time.”
Williams may not be able to replicate what he did in 2010, when he crashed the party among the league’s elite cover men and delivered huge plays in the postseason, including a game-turning interception return for a touchdown in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Atlanta. But if he’s close to that player in 2012 – he says he’s not 100 percent recovered from the shoulder injury and that the nerve still creates weakness in his arm – the league’s worst-ranked defense is in for a big rebound.
“I feel this: With a healthy Tramon Williams, the way he played in 2010 is what you’ll see,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “I’m confident with him. With how he played in 2010, you’ll see that in 2012.”
If that happens, Williams will allow Charles Woodson to continue to do the myriad of things he does on defense (including, possibly, spending more time at safety) and be able to take opposing teams’ best receivers out of the game. If not, and Williams doesn’t regain his pre-injury form, you can count on this much: You won’t hear him making excuses for himself.
“This is football. If you’re able to play, I think anybody would’ve went out there and played,” Williams said. “There’s no excuses. I’m not here for pity or any of that. I went out there and did the best that I could with the situation. The coaching staff and me, we talked about it, and it was the best option – for me to play. That’s what it’s about. You want to go out there to battle with those guys, whether you’re 100 percent or not.”
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