It's A Start

'I'm Ready': Williams Aces First Practice Since Surgery

Ravens Training Camp

July 29, 2009|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

The much-scrutinized Demetrius Williams aced the first practice of the most important training camp of his NFL career Tuesday. Now he has to do it for 25 more days and 39 more practices to assure the Ravens that he is who they say he is.

If the 26-year-old wide receiver finally is going to escape the shadows and realize his raw potential, he needs to start here, in Westminster, where the need has never been greater, and now, his fourth season.

So far, flashes of brilliance have been tempered by durability issues and an almost-chronic ankle problem. But Williams envisions a breakthrough in a summer when the Ravens are contemplating life after Derrick Mason.

"I've got all that stuff behind me," Williams promised after the first workout for rookies and select veterans at McDaniel College. "Now I'm ready to go out and play."

All eyes were on the 6-foot-2, muscled-up 202-pound receiver Tuesday morning to measure his progress since he underwent surgery in November for an Achilles tendon injury. Perhaps no one watched more intently than wide receivers coach Jim Hostler, who also paid close attention to veteran Mark Clayton, who is coming back from a foot injury.

Clayton went through his conditioning test and then stepped in to work in a three-receiver package with Williams. First impressions were golden.

"He looked good out here today," coach John Harbaugh said of Williams. "There was no indication of the Achilles [injury] at all. I thought he had a good practice."

Hostler was equally pleased.

"I really feel good where they are," he said. "I feel really good where Demetrius is because the limp is gone."

Williams said he has packed 15 pounds of muscle onto his sprinter's frame without sacrificing any of his sprinter's speed. In an offense that might have to play without Mason, who has tentatively retired, Williams will be a vital cog in keeping Joe Flacco's passing game in the fast lane.

When the organized team activities ended in June, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said Williams needed to prove he could stay healthy in order to help the team.

"I haven't talked in detail about [Cameron's] expectations," Williams said. "We talked about it the year before, so I kind of know where he stands. I'm definitely going to try to make the change, as far as him being able to depend on me."

By the time camp breaks Aug. 23, Hostler wants Williams to have built up the trust of his teammates and especially his quarterback.

Williams was able to work only minimally during minicamp and organized team activities, and as a result has fallen behind in some areas.

"This training camp is critical for that," Hostler said, "because now we've got about the same amount of reps that you'd get in an offseason program in the next three weeks. So he's got one [more] chance. He's got to be healthy, he's got to make [it through] these three weeks. And he's got to build that rapport with the quarterback.

"Once you build that, then his teammates trust him, the play-caller [Cameron] trusts him and that's when you start to become a player."

Clayton knows what Williams has been feeling.

"He's been through a lot," Clayton said. "I know that just with my little injury and having to sit out and watch, that's frustrating, and you want to get out and play again as you know you can play. I know he's excited, and he'll come out and show what he's capable of doing."

Williams was a second-round talent out of Oregon in 2006 who fell to the fourth round because of durability questions. The Ravens have been patient waiting for him to deliver.

"He's always been a very talented guy, with very good play-making ability," director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "He can go up and get the football, he can stretch the field, he can make plays in the red zone. We've always been very high on him. [But] we wanted him to get stronger. This is his chance this year."

Now that his ankle has healed, Williams said he believes the extra muscle will enable him to endure punishing hits and stay on the field. As a rookie, he played in all 16 regular-season games and pulled down two touchdown catches, one for 77 yards. He also scored on a 70-yard pass play last season before going on injured reserve after seven games.

So for now and for the rest of camp, Williams will try to make up for lost time, make up for Mason's absence and make his mark on a team with designs on the Super Bowl. He has spoken with Mason since the quasi-retirement announcement, but he doesn't know what Mason will do.

"A guy can go home and sleep on it and the next thing you know, he doesn't want to play anymore," Williams said. "Or he might wake up in the morning and say, 'I want to play.' You never know. It's a decision he's going to have to make and ... whatever decision he makes, we're going to be happy. If we get him back that's a great plus, and if we don't we'll understand."

Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.

Today:

Practices at 8:45.a.m. and 3:30.p.m.

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