Packers’ Williams awaits Fitzgerald challenge

GREEN BAY, Wis. — There are wide receivers Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams enjoys playing against because of the coverage challenge they provide.

Unlike Chicago’s Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald fits the bill entering the FOX America’s Game of the Week between the Packers and Arizona Cardinals (11 a.m. Sunday, Arizona time).

“He has the size, speed, route running, body control, hands. And he’s one of those guys who grew up around football in Minnesota with Cris Carter and guys like that,” said Williams, who is expected to blanket Fitzgerald in Sunday’s matchup.

“He just has the total package. You definitely have to have the right mindset to go out and battle the whole game.”

As for Marshall, Williams told that he provides a different type of test.

“If there’s anybody who likes to bend and break the rules, it probably would be Brandon Marshall,” Williams said. “Obviously as a big receiver, you want to be physical. Some of the things he does he shouldn’t be able to do against press coverage. He’s one of those guys where he wants you to put your hands on him so he’s going to grab you and throw you. I’m like, ‘Mr. Ref, he’s not fast enough to get on top of me. How do you think he got on top?’ He has some tricks to him.

“He’s a physical specimen. For a guy like that to do stuff like that also is kind of hard.”

So is playing cornerback with one arm.

That’s essentially what Williams did throughout 2011 after sustaining a serious right shoulder injury in the season-opener against New Orleans. Williams suffered torn muscles and nerve damage from what he described as a “rare hit” on a “notch” in his shoulder.

Williams, who claims he had previously never even missed a practice because of injury, valiantly played through the pain. But the shoulder ailment greatly curtailed his ability to tackle properly, which was a team-wide epidemic on what finished as the NFL’s lowest-ranked pass defense.

“Last year, I had nothing,” said Williams, who didn’t publically disclose the extent of his injury during the season. “It was like having a limb that you couldn’t use. I couldn’t lift (weights). You had to pick and choose how you tackle. It was like, ‘I’m going to tackle this guy but I’m definitely not tackling this guy.’ It was a lot to go through, but I got through and made no excuses.”

Williams said some of the nerves in his shoulder still haven’t completely regenerated. But through a rigorous offseason rehabilitation program – “five days a week, twice a day,” Williams said – the injury is no longer an on-field issue.

The results are evident. Williams is once again faring well as Green Bay’s designated “shutdown” cornerback who is usually assigned to the opposition’s top wide receiver.

“Mentally, it’s not affecting me because there’s no pain,” Williams said. “I can get through it and I don’t have to think about it. I also have strength. Last year, I had nothing.”

Overcoming adversity is nothing new for Williams. He was a walk-on at Louisiana Tech who wasn’t drafted. He was then cut by Houston as a rookie free agent during the 2006 preseason and spent almost three months out of football before landing on Green Bay’s practice squad.

Williams then had the good fortune of learning the cornerback craft from two of the best who have ever played the position for Green Bay – Charles Woodson and Al Harris. Those efforts led to Williams gradually improving to the point he signed a five-year, $38.1 million contract extension in 2010.

“I sat back, watched, picked those guys’ brains and found out what I needed to do and the way to go about being a professional,” said Williams, 29. “I feel if you talk to my peers, they will tell you I was always one of the most gifted guys athletically and one of the players who you should watch. But it seemed like that never got across to the right people. Every level I’ve gotten on, I’ve had to prove myself all the time even though I felt, ‘Are you guys looking at film?’ That’s just the route I had to take.

“In the meantime, I relished that. I felt like I was the best guy out there so that’s the way I went about it. Eventually, guys started seeing it.”

Fitzgerald – and Marshall down the road – will see Williams again soon enough.