<
>

Sleeper watch: LB Thomas Williams

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Every year, a "sleeper" candidate has emerged to unexpectedly earn a Patriots roster spot.

Often, those "sleepers" are rookie free agents, such as Randall Gay (2004), Mike Wright (2005), Pierre Woods (2006), Matt Gutierrez (2007), Gary Guyton (2008) and Brian Hoyer (2009).

As for this year's possible "sleeper", second-year linebacker Thomas Williams might be a good choice.

Williams, who joined the Patriots' practice squad last November and spent the remainder of the 2009 regular season there, has seemingly taken a positive step in the team's system. One example of this came in Wednesday's practice, when he initially went to the practice field with lesser-experienced players in the team's system, only to be called back to work with the veterans.

After Wednesday's practice, Williams was told that he's been identified by one reporter as a "sleeper" candidate.

"No, don't do it man," he responded. "There's no reason for it. It's just [organized team activities] and minicamp. We haven't really done anything. I'm just working to find my role, however the team is using me."

In addition to his work at inside linebacker, Williams has doubled up at fullback, a role he played at times at Southern California. That type of versatility should help him.

A native of Vacaville, Calif., Williams entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft choice of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2008, playing six games his rookie season, all on special teams. He was waived in September of 2009 and landed on the Seattle Seahawks' practice squad one day later. But the Seahawks released him 22 days later, and Williams was without a team until joining the Patriots' practice squad Nov. 10.

Seemingly pleased with Williams' development and with the idea of working with him in 2010, the Patriots promoted him to their active roster in the week leading up to the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. In minicamp practices, he's been mixing in alongside Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton, Tyrone McKenzie and Brandon Spikes at inside linebacker.

Williams said one of the main lessons he learned since arriving in New England is how to work. His work in the weight room has helped add strength, as he's bulked up from 237 pounds to 248, while improving his speed as well.

Although it's dangerous to read too much into June practices without pads, it seems as if Williams' approach has paid off, putting him in position to be a "sleeper" candidate to earn a roster spot.