TE D.J. Williams gets another chance with Patriots

D. J. Williams finally has his packing strategy down. Now he’d

like to master the Patriots playbook.

The tight end has been cut three times in just over three

months. And he’s with New England again after Rob Gronkowski was

sidelined for the season.

It’s Williams’ latest destination in a year when he’s had to be

ready to travel to find work.

”I used to have two bags. I got it down to one,” he said

Wednesday. ”I YouTubed some packing techniques.”

Williams spent his first two pro seasons with the Green Bay

Packers before being cut Aug. 31. The Jacksonville Jaguars signed

him the next day and used him in seven games before releasing him

Nov. 4. The Patriots claimed him Nov. 27, used him sparingly in one

game, then cut him Dec. 4 before re-signing him Monday.

He’s wrestling with the playbook again and trying not to confuse

it with those in Green Bay and Jacksonville.

Fortunately, tight end Matthew Mulligan – who also was signed,

cut and re-signed by the Patriots this season – was teammates with

Williams in Green Bay this past offseason. When Williams struggles

to understand a play, Mulligan tells him which Packers call it’s

similar to.

”It’s just the terminology,” Williams said. ”The concepts are

pretty much the same.”

His previous stint with the Patriots gave him a head start on

the complex offense.

”Now I’m able to break the huddle and know if I need to go

right or left,” Williams said with a smile. ”So that’s a big

start.”

He returned to his home in Arkansas after being cut by the

Patriots then was flying back last Sunday even before Gronkowski

was hurt. He said he hoped to be at the Patriots’ game, a 27-26 win

over the Cleveland Browns, but his flight was delayed. So he was in

the air when Gronkowski tore his ACL and damaged his MCL in the

third quarter, ending his season.

”They had Wi-Fi on the plane so I was able to keep track of the

game,” Williams said. ”It was unfortunate. I’d only been here a

week and understand how great of a guy (Gronkowski) is already.

Talk about a guy who’s been through so much with injuries.”

Gronkowski missed the first six games this year after undergoing

four operations on his broken left forearm and one on his back. He

caught 37 passes for 560 yards in the next six games then had two

receptions for 32 yards before being carted off the field

Sunday.

”I really wasn’t like, `Oh, yeah, I’m going to get a spot,”’

Williams said. ”I really did genuinely feel upset for him.”

He and Mulligan are the Patriots’ only two healthy tight ends

going into Sunday’s game at Miami.

The Patriots (10-3) would clinch their 10th AFC East title in 11

seasons with a win or tie against the division rival Dolphins

(7-6).

Williams was drafted by the Packers out of Arkansas in the fifth

round in 2011, two rounds after the Patriots took his college

quarterback, Ryan Mallett.

Williams set the school record for tight ends with 152

receptions and won the John Mackey Award given to the nation’s top

college tight end.

”He’s a smart football player,” Mallett said. ”I always knew

where he was going to be and I never had to worry about that.”

So far, though, Williams has only nine catches for 70 yards as a

pro. But Mallett encouraged him after Patriots coach Bill Belichick

cut him.

”I don’t know what Bill had in mind, but I know that he’s a

good player,” Mallett said. ”I said, `Stay in shape. You never

know if we’re going to need you.”’

Still, Williams said, ”it makes it difficult when you have your

first two years go smooth and now you’re going through this whole

transition.”

”You have to keep a positive mindset or else you’re going to go

down that rabbit hole and not come back,” he added.

Then the Patriots called.

”I just need to really get in that playbook,” Williams said,

”and understand what’s going on.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org