GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Tramon Williams isn’t expected to be around this week. As a 12th-year veteran, he’s more than met coach Mike McCarthy's prerequisite to be excused from the Green Bay Packers' mandatory minicamp.
And at age 35, Williams won’t be around the NFL forever. But his influence on the Packers’ defense and his seemingly ageless play make it seem like he will.
In his second go-around with the team that gave him his first real chance to play in 2007 as an undrafted cornerback, the measure of Williams’ impact won’t come only in the form of interceptions and pass breakups but also in the influence he’ll have over the Packers’ young cornerbacks -- first- and second-round picks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, respectively, plus second-year pro Kevin King chief among them.
While Williams and other veterans with at least five years of experience are expected to be excused from minicamp as McCarthy has done in the past, the fruits of his impact on the others should be noticeable.
It was no wonder that none other than Aaron Rodgers turned a question about the Packers’ rookie corners into an answer about old No. 38.
“I said it walking off the field today, the biggest difference on the back end is 38,” Rodgers said last week of Williams. “When he showed back up here, he is as of right now, in my humble opinion, the best on that side of the ball, and you want your best players to be the best guys in the locker room, and there’s nobody better than Tramon.
“It’s great having him back. Those young guys, I would tell them and will tell them here at some point, watch the older guys because there’s a reason that guy’s been around as long as he has -- undrafted, practice squad, one of the biggest players in our Super Bowl run and then he’s back here to finish it up. It’s really fun.”
So many things went wrong in the final minutes of the 2014 NFC Championship Game that it’s easy to forget how it actually ended, and who gave up the final play.
It was Williams, who was in coverage -- all by himself because of a blitz call from defensive coordinator Dom Capers -- against Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse on the Seahawks' 35-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime.
It was Williams’ final play as a Packer. The Packers moved on and so did Williams, who signed with the Browns that offseason. He played two years in Cleveland and last season with the Cardinals before he returned to Green Bay this offseason on a two-year, $10 million deal.
“I feel like there’s unfinished business,” Williams said upon his return.
“To walk off the field on my last play as a Packer getting scored on to go to the Super Bowl, it was a tough way to end it. But God puts you in different situations. I ended up leaving and there was a reason why I left -- for me to grow. I feel over these last three years, I’ve grown so much more than I would’ve probably ever done while I was here. Now it’s time for me to come back here and get things in order. I’m up for that challenge. I believe that we will be back in the big dance when it’s all said and done. I’m hoping that these guys are here with me, and we’re going to get it done.”
More than a mentor
Williams’ return is more than ceremonial; he wouldn’t be here if general manager Brian Gutekunst thought he was over the hill.
During OTA practices, Williams regularly manned one of the outside positions with the No. 1 defense and is a good bet to be one of the opening-day starters. If King’s recovery from shoulder surgery goes as expected, he could be the other. Alexander could be the leading candidate for the nickel spot and Jackson for the dime position.
But there’s a mentorship aspect in play, too.
Williams played in new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s system in Cleveland, making him and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson (who played for Pettine with the Jets) expert teachers of the new scheme.
“It’s one thing me saying it, it’s another thing you have a guy in the room with you doing those things, doing the yoga, getting massages, doing the extra stretching, studying film a certain way,” Packers defensive passing-game coordinator Joe Whitt said recently in talking about Williams. “He does everything the proper way, so it’s just been great having him back. And then the three practices he’s gone, he’s been really, really good. He’s still really quick. He’s got his hands on a number of balls. I’ve been really pleased with the way he’s played.”
Williams claims he doesn’t know how much longer he will play, even though he says he gets that question “all the time.” Unlike one of his mentors, Al Harris, who’s now on the Chiefs coaching staff, Williams doesn’t think he’ll coach after his career is over. But he has no problem helping out while he plays.
“One of the things that I’ve told those guys already, when I came in here and I had the opportunity to see great guys play and learn from great guys,” Williams said. “I wasn’t really forced in. My number was called, and I was prepared because I got a chance to watch those guys. I got a chance to watch Charles [Woodson] and Nick [Collins] and those guys and build a relationship with them, even when I wasn’t playing. All of that factors in.
“We try to do a good job of team bonding all the time, whether it be going out to eat at night or whatever it may be. You have to be able to trust the next man on the field with you, and you want that to go further than just the field. That’s one thing that I always preach to the guys. There’s a reason why guys play for a long time. One thing I realize is that smart guys last in this league. Everybody is talented, but the smart guys last in this league. The faster you can get smart, the better you’ll do and the longer you’ll last.”