By John Boyle Herald Writer
RENTON — Stephen Williams was so good in last week’s preseason opener, and has been so good throughout training camp, that Pete Carroll had to have a talk with the receiver.
In the locker room following the Seahawks’ 31-10 victory over San Diego, Seattle’s head coach had a simple question for Williams.
What happened with the Arizona Cardinals?
How does a receiver with so much size — Williams is listed at 6-foot-5 — and the speed to stretch the field, end up available in the offseason? How does a player with such a knack for catching the deep ball make so little impact three years into a career in a league that values big, playmaking receivers over just about anything other than top-flight quarterback and game-changing pass rushers?
“I’ve asked him,” Carroll said. “Matter of fact, I sat him down after the game in the locker room and just asked him about it, because I was just curious to get at, ‘What happened?’ Because he looks like such a legit player and can be a factor.”
According to Williams, there were a couple of factors, the biggest of which was the presence of Larry Fitzgerald, who is one of the best receivers in the game. Williams saw a little bit of playing time in 2010, starting three games and catching nine passes for 101 yards. But he didn’t have a catch in 2011, then was injured last year before the Cardinals released him late in the season.
“The last three years I was playing behind Larry (Fitzgerald), one of the greatest receivers ever, so the only thing I can do is learn from him and continue to work hard,” Williams said. “So when I came to another team, I had another opportunity to show my skill set, and I’m trying to take advantage of it.”
In Seattle, Williams sees the opportunity to be a part of an organization that will allow him to earn a chance. There’s no obvious path for significant playing time on a roster than already has Golden Tate, Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin.But then again, Carroll does love big receivers, and besides that, who saw a clear path to playing time for Mike Williams back in 2010 before he eventually won a starting job? And for that matter, who saw Baldwin, an undrafted free agent in 2011, as a candidate to end up leading the team in receiving as a rookie?
“There’s no politics over here on this team,” Williams said. “If you come here and you work and you bust your ass, you’ll get a job.”
Williams had looked like a potential diamond in the rough early in camp, and he then backed it up with his play in San Diego, catching two passes for 83 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown.
“It’s kind of exciting, because he did it here (in practice) and he did it in the game, so we’ll see in the next couple of weeks,” Carroll said. “We hope that he can continue to create for us. He’s having a great camp, and I’m really excited for him.”
Williams approaches the game with the mentality that he should “own the deep ball” and so far that’s what he has done in practice and one preseason game. He may have to do more than that, however, to ultimately make the 53-man roster. The Seahawks will likely carry five or six receivers. And if he’s battling for that fifth or sixth spot, Williams might need to find a way to contribute on special teams, something he did not do in Arizona and has done very little of in training camp. Williams has done a little bit of special teams work of late, particularly working as a gunner on punt coverage, in an attempt to strengthen his resume.
“It does affect him,” Carroll said. “As a matter of fact, if you watch him you’ll see that he’s getting more work at stuff outside on the perimeter to try and help his cause. It is a factor, because some of the other guys are really good on special teams, and he has to catch up a little bit there.”
At 6-5, 208 pounds, Williams hardly has the frame to bang around on kick coverage or to block on returns. And he admits special teams work isn’t his favorite thing, but he’s also willing to do it if it helps him earn a job.
“I don’t mind it,” he said. “It’s not something I look forward to every day like, ‘let’s go out there and do this.’ But to get the job done, I’ll play anything. Put me at quarterback and I’ll throw it.”
But while showing something on special teams could help Williams earn a job, that’s not what the Seahawks see in him that’s so intriguing. Carroll has long been a fan of receivers he calls “touchdown makers,” and while it’s a small sample size, that’s what Williams has been so far. NFL training camps are full of stories about guys who show potential, only to never be heard from again. But if Williams keeps playing well, Carroll will have a hard time letting go a player who has shown so much upside that he felt the need to chat with Williams after a game to understand how his career hasn’t taken off already.
“I’ve always liked 6-5 guys,” Carroll said. “It’s worked out quite well in the past and we’ve got kind of a thought and a role for guys like that and he’s the only guy that’s kind of built like that. As always, his uniqueness catches my eye. I’m always looking for something that adds to the whole group. I’m really thinking positively about him having a chance to factor in for us.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.