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Williams has it covered

August 26, 2011

August 24, 2011 | Rob Reischel | Journal Sentinel

Tramon Williams

(photo by Benny Sieu) “I don’t want people calling me a shutdown corner. People hear the term ‘shutdown corner’ and they don’t throw the ball at that guy. When it’s all said and done, I want the ball thrown at me.” - Tramon Williams

Cornerback ranked among best in league

Green Bay – Tramon Williams threw on an ordinary white T-shirt and laced up his sneakers. He put on a New York Yankees hat and flung a backpack over his shoulder.

If you saw Williams strolling a college campus, you’d think he was off to a political science lecture. Instead, the most understated member of the Green Bay Packers could very well be one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks.

Williams, now in his sixth season with the Packers, had a coming-out party in 2010. After a terrific regular season, Williams caught the eye of America with three postseason interceptions, then broke up a ball for Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace on the final play of Super Bowl XLV.

But don’t think fame – and the security of a four-year, $33 million contract – will change Williams at all. Williams is the same guy who went from college walk-on to undrafted free agent to practice squad player to star.

In essence, Williams’ work ethic – and choice in clothing – is the same as when he was making the NFL minimum.

“I’m the same guy now as when I got here,” Williams said. “I’ll always be the same guy.”

That’s great news for the Packers, who have watched Williams blossom into an elite player.

In each of Williams’ five seasons with the Packers, he’s taken on a greater role. That won’t change this year, as Green Bay is toying with the idea of having Williams shadow opponent’s No. 1 receivers at times.

“I think it’s wild,” Williams said. “I used to be the nickel back and now this.

“But I think it helps out the defense a lot when you have a guy who can do that. So if that’s what they want, I’d be happy to do it. I’m up for the challenge, no doubt about it. I won’t back away from it. I’ll be ready for it.”

Readiness has never been a problem for Williams, who has one of the game’s best rags-to-riches stories.

By now, many know that Williams initially enrolled just as a student at Louisiana Tech. But during his freshman year, Williams got the fever to play football and convinced coach Jack Bicknell to give him a chance to walk-on.

Despite a solid career with the Bulldogs, Williams went undrafted and was later signed and released by the Houston Texans. The Packers took a flier on Williams in 2006 and have watched him develop into an elite player ever since.

“We were stone cold lucky Tramon Williams was available a few years ago when we signed him,” Packer general manager Ted Thompson said. “It’s not an exact science. That’s what makes it so compelling for those of us in the business. We don’t know how it’s going to turn out.”

Not even the great Nostradamus could have called this one.

After three seasons as Green Bay’s primary nickel back, Williams replaced Al Harris in 2010 and played at a Pro Bowl level.

Williams led the Packers with six interceptions and 23 passes defensed during the regular season. His tackling improved dramatically from past years. He stopped giving up the big play that plagued him earlier in his career. And his ability to stymie standout receivers allowed Packer defensive coordinator Dom Capers to move fellow cornerback Charles Woodson all over the field.

“The growth of Tramon and really Sam (Shields), too, gives us a lot of flexibility,” Capers said. “But Tramon . . . he’s a pretty special guy.”

That was never more apparent than in the postseason a year ago.

First, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick made the dreadful decision of throwing for No. 4 wideout Riley Cooper in the closing moments of the NFC wild-card game. Williams, who was matched against Cooper, made a highlight-reel interception to send the Packers on to the divisional round.

Against Atlanta, the 5-foot-11 Williams went over the Falcons’ 6-foot-4 receiver Michael Jenkins for one interception. Then right before halftime, Williams jumped a ball for Roddy White, snared Matt Ryan’s pass, and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown in Green Bay’s 48-21 win.

“I tell people all the time the three best athletes I’ve had a chance to play with are Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and (Atlanta’s) Brent Grimes,” Packer safety Charlie Peprah said of Williams. “I’ve always said Tramon can jump out of the gym. He’s quick as a cat; he’s got ball skills, and he just always has had that confidence in himself.

“Even when he got here on practice squad, he didn’t let that keep him down. It was just a ‘cream will rise to the top’ type attitude. The guy deserves everything he’s gotten. It’s been a real joy to watch him go from where he was at to now.”

Sports Illustrated recently listed Williams as the 16th best player in football and the No. 2 corner behind Philadelphia’s Nnamdi Asomugha. Pro Football Weekly had Williams as the 38th best player in football and the No. 4 corner. And Bleacher Report listed Williams as the No. 5 cornerback (Woodson was third).

Yet somehow Williams was only named first alternate to the NFC’s Pro Bowl team in December.

“I really don’t care about that stuff,” Williams said of the snub. “If we continue winning Super Bowls, none of that stuff really matters.

“I know that when people watch film, they know what I can do. I get the sense of it from talking to people after games and things like that. As long as players understand what I can do, the outside stuff doesn’t matter as much. I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve always done.”

Williams did exactly that this off-season, working out with his longtime trainer, LeRoy Franklin, back in Houston. He reported in terrific shape and has been outstanding all summer again.

Off the field, Williams’ routine is the same, as well. He goes home to his wife of two years, Shantrell. And he devotes as much time as possible to his 10-month old son.

At 28, with the stars aligned, Williams seems ready for greatness.

“I think so. I hope so,” he said. “But you know what, I don’t want people calling me a shutdown corner. People hear the term ‘shutdown corner’ and they don’t throw the ball at that guy.

“When it’s all said and done, I want the ball thrown at me. I want the ball my way.”

So do the Packers. So far, it’s been a winning formula for everyone.

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