April 4, 2008

NFL Duck Update: Demetrius Williams

The breakout year. If it's going to happen for a wide receiver it usually happens in their third or fourth year in the NFL. And that's exactly what Demetrius Williams is looking for in 2008, his third year in the league. Back in 2006 he was drafted 111th overall in the fourth round by the Ravens after being projected as a second round pick. Surprisingly, he slid down on draft day to a team that already had Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason at wide receiver.

The Ravens were looking for a guy another receiver who could attack the primarily from the slot. What they got was a player who could do that, and also line up wide and stretch the field with his speed.

After a strong pre-season and camp, Williams struggled at the outset of his rookie year. Maybe because of the antiquated rule that limits rookies to one mini camp until after the university's school year is finished. The rule kept Williams and fellow Raven teammate Haloti Ngata away from the team during the crucial time when rookies have more time with coaches because veterans aren't around as much.

Despite that, Williams finished his rookie season strong and started out even better last year. He started four of the nine games he appeared in, he caught 20 passes for 290 yards before battling an ankle injury and then just shutting it down for the season.

The off-season firing of head coach Brian Billick and the subsequent hiring of John Harbaugh adds another twist to whether Williams can have his breakout year. Harbaugh was the special teams coach for the Philadelphia Eagles most recently. Those aren't usually the kind of people who want to air it out offensively. Usually that means the grind it out running game is on its way. Back in January Harbaugh hired Cam Cameron to be the offensive coordinator. Yes, the same guy who was just the head coach in Miami.

Williams will probably start as the third receiver on the Ravens depth chart this year, but he's no stranger to working his way up one of those. Back when signed his letter of intent to come to Oregon, he wasn't even the highest rated player at his position in his class, for a awhile Phillip Goodman was. Goodman never made it to Oregon and Williams became the feature receiver in an offense led by Kellen Clemens in his senior year.

Although he'd never say it, he'll probably wish Clemens was around this season. Because the biggest obstacle to his success might not be Williams himself. It might be the quarterback situation. Longtime starter Steve McNair is in the twilight of his career and backup Kyle Boller has yet to show he's capable of being a first tier quarterback at this level. Behind them is former Buckeye Troy Smith who doesn't look the part yet either. Boller's biggest NFL claim to fame so far is being able to throw the ball through the uprights from the 50 yard-line from his knees during his pro day at Cal.

In his first two years Williams has definitely shown he's got the size and toughness to have a long productive NFL career. And he's gained the nickname; 'Spiderman' for his sticky hands on the field. He still drifts at times when running routes, and he'll have to solidify his on-field rapport with whoever wins the starting job this year. Those are some big ifs but if those things happen and he stays healthy, Williams could have the breakout year he's looking for and wind up as the go-to guy in Baltimore. Just as he did in Eugene.

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