GREEN BAY, Wis. — When Packers cornerback Tramon Williams initially injured his right shoulder in Week 1 of last season, the team described it as a bruise, news that coach Mike McCarthy called “positive” at the time.
Nine months later, given the poor condition of Williams’ shoulder, it’s safe to assume that original diagnosis was inaccurate.
“We did strength tests on my shoulder (in early June) and it was at about 50 percent when they tested,” Williams said on the last day of the team’s offseason programs. “It probably was worse during the season. It was bad. I hadn’t done anything on it for a while, trying to heal it up a little bit. I started my rehab process, did that for a couple weeks, then we did the strength test to see where we were.
“They tested my strong arm, which is my left arm, and then the right arm, and my right arm was significantly weaker than my left arm. And this is my dominant arm, my right arm, so it was weak. Let’s just say that.
“It was terrible. If I hold my arm right here and told you to push it, I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t even hold it up, still.”
Williams, 29, who excelled in bump-and-run coverage in prior seasons, may never be that type of cornerback again. Considering the lack of progress that his right shoulder has made despite not taking any hits to it since the Packers’ season ended on Jan. 15 — more than five months ago — Williams mentioned that it’s possible he’ll only participate on a limited basis throughout training camp starting in late July.
“I’ve done some testing in the offseason, I’ve done an EMG test, which tests the nerves,” Williams said. “The left side, everything was fine, 100 percent. And they got to the right side, and some of the nerve was firing right. Then they got to the spot where I got hit at, and it showed a significant difference that the nerve wasn’t firing like the rest of my nerves were.
“The nerve might have been firing at maybe 15 percent.”
Despite the significant decrease in the strength of his right shoulder, Williams said there is no pain. Even midway through last season, pain was not the issue.
“But physically, the condition my shoulder was in, my whole body was out of sync,” Williams said. “I wasn’t really moving like I usually do. If you watch film closely, when I’m running, I’m kind of carrying my shoulder with me. I’m carrying my shoulder with me and I’ve got to watch what I do.
“You don’t want to mess with nerve damage, let’s just say that.”
Williams had a breakout season in 2010 and was named to the Pro Bowl while helping lead the Packers to a Super Bowl victory.
But as a former undrafted player in 2006 who was released by the Houston Texans as a rookie, Williams understands the delicate balance of how quickly a player can go from a Pro Bowl level to being out of a starting job.
“If you don’t play through it, then you’ve got one of these good youngsters sitting on the sidelines and they step in, they have an awesome season, then what happens?” Williams said. “That’s the thing about the league. There’s decisions that you have to make. It may be better for your career, it may be wrong for your career. But you have to make decisions at that point.
“That’s what we do in the NFL, you play through it. If you can, you play through it. It’s a tough league. It’s dirty, but you have to do it.”
As a result of his injury, Williams’ performance fell off in 2011 and he was not able to make a repeat trip to the Pro Bowl. Though he still intercepted four passes, down from six a year earlier, Williams’ inability to play his preferred style at corner was one of several factors that led to the Packers giving up more passing yards than any team in NFL history.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Williams said. “Every game I went into thinking I was going to have a good game. Even physically, I maybe wasn’t able to do some things, I still went into it thinking I was going to have a good game. Mentally, going into a game, I was good; maybe not all the way of where I needed to be at, though.
“Excuses aren’t going to make you better. I’ve never been the type of guy to make excuses. That’s me, that’s the guys in this locker room and that’s what we strongly believe in. Whether you play well as a defense or you play poorly, we’re going to stick together and take it all as a team. That’s the way we work around here.”
There were a lot of factors that contributed to Green Bay’s historically poor defense last season, including a lack of pass rush — 27th in sacks — and, by McCarthy’s frequent admissions, poor communication in the secondary. During the season, Williams was not as forthcoming with the worrisome information regarding his shoulder. But looking back, Williams’ lack of health may have been one of the more significant reasons behind the team’s defensive struggles in pass coverage.
“Last year, the coaches knew what my situation was,” Williams said. “I think they tried to plan around it. I know they tried to plan around it. They might not tell you and they might not say it, but I know they tried to plan around it.
“The way this defense is run, it’s kind of hard to do that. There’s a lot of moving parts to it. Obviously you have to have guys who know what they’re doing out there. You can’t make too many errors out there. That’s why I played the way I played.”
If Williams is unable to perform at a high level, there aren’t many options behind him at cornerback on the Packers’ roster. Veteran Charles Woodson is already roaming between slot corner and safety, while Jarrett Bush and Sam Shields are battling for snaps opposite of Williams. Rookie cornerback Casey Hayward was Green Bay’s second-round pick in this year’s draft, but he has yet to receive any playing time with the first-team defense in drills so far this offseason.
However, Williams is holding out hope that he can still return to playing at a Pro Bowl level.
“I’m one of those guys who always was able to overcome adversity, so I don’t see no reason why I won’t go out there and do what I’ve done in the past,” Williams said.