GREEN BAY, Wis. — Packers second-year tight end D.J. Williams is really starting to get comfortable during the early stages of training camp in Green Bay.
On the field, Williams has consistently been a standout performer on offense throughout the first four practices. Nearly every pass thrown his way has stuck to his hands.
It took less than one hour into training camp for Williams to make two fantastic catches, including one from third-string quarterback B.J. Coleman that was significantly behind him. The next day, Williams was at it again, making a leaping grab with outstretched arms. So it was a hardly a surprise once the pads went on beginning with the third practice that Williams continued to shine.
“He’s had a couple of nice catches, big plays in practice,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s able to separate and make the catch. He’s playing with much more balance and strength. That’s one of the things you see with a younger player. They’re not off their feet very often and that’s obviously important.
“D.J. is stronger, more comfortable. He’s doing a lot better job of attacking the middle of the field.”
Williams is undersized for his position at 6-foot-2, which led to him falling to the Packers in the fifth round of the 2011 draft and not get selected until six other tight ends had gone off the board. As the recipient of the John Mackey Award, given each year to college football’s most outstanding tight end, Williams was projected to go much higher. FOXSports.com had Williams as the best tight end going into last year’s draft.
But with Green Bay stacked at tight end, Williams had only two catches for 13 yards last season. Appearing in 13 games, mostly on special teams, Williams was playing behind Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree.
Williams has a big opportunity now, as Quarless is still recovering from a torn ACL and will likely begin the upcoming season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
Williams described Quarless’ injury as “an unfortunate opportunity” to prove himself now in his second year.
“Overall, I feel comfortable with where I am right now, but not too comfortable,” Williams said. “I understand I’ve got a ways to go. I just want to establish my role, whatever that may be. A little bit more in camp I’ve been getting utilized more in the slot and running a couple routes. It’s very good doing that in camp because it helps in getting chemistry with the quarterbacks and figuring out how to make your route-running unique to what the quarterback thinks your route-running can be.”
Rookies from the 2011 draft class like Williams didn’t have offseason training a year ago due to the NFL lockout. Once the dispute was over, Williams and the rest of that rookie group were at a significant disadvantage by immediately being thrown into training camp without the usual offseason work.
It’s apparent, now that Williams has gone through his first offseason programs and minicamp, that he’s a much improved player.
While some of that improvement is undoubtedly due to his workouts on the field and in the weight room, Williams also has a less conventional form of training to get himself ready for the season.
“I was wrestling cows back in Arkansas in the offseason,” Williams said. “It works out real good, especially if you get them with a baby calf, then they’re really aggressive. That really helped. It started off as cow tipping, but once they start charging you, you have to go to defense mode.”
Certainly Williams was just joking.
“No, I’m serious,” he said. “I wrestled cows every day. Back home in Arkansas, we don’t have anything else to do.”
Williams went to high school in Arkansas and played four seasons at the University of Arkansas.
“I just roomed with a whole bunch of country people in college,” Williams said. “We didn’t have anything else to do. You just try to not get hurt or die and do whatever you can to stay alive. It’s very difficult to put them on the ground. If you can wrap the hind leg with the front leg, you have a good chance if you give a good enough push.”
Williams added that no photographs have ever been taken of he and his college roommates’ adventures with cows, perhaps lending to the idea that this was all just a prank on the media to see who believed it enough to write it.
But, the next day, with an opportunity to come clean about any exaggerations in his story, Williams firmly held his ground.
“You’ve got to learn how to do it when no one’s watching,” Williams said.
Asked what he gets out of cow wrestling, Williams said there were three main aspects.
“For a good time, and it helps with football, obviously, and it’s a good way to impress a girl,” he said. “They (girls) think it’s to impress them, but I’m actually working on my football skill at the same time. Two birds, one stone.”
Whatever Williams is doing, it’s working and has made him a much better player so far in training camp.
McCarthy took the team skeet shooting this offseason, but if Williams continues his impressive play, perhaps next year’s team-building activity will be cow wrestling.