ASHBURN, Va. -- It's all about the new quarterback these days with the Washington Redskins. All of the excitement, all of the news this offseason has centered on Robert Griffin III and thoughts and dreams about what he might accomplish. His teammates know and understand this, but for them it means something different than it does for the fans. It means responsibility. They have to help make him a success.
"Everybody knows the great things he can do," Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said after a minicamp practice earlier this month. "But no one player makes the offense. It takes all 11, and if we're not doing our job, he won't do as well. But as long as we're doing our job and surrounding him with good examples of how to be a pro, he could be one of the best to ever do this."
Williams knows how that last part sounds coming from him. He's not being obtuse. He and teammates Fred Davis were suspended for the final four games of the 2011 season for violating the league's drug policy -- a dumb mistake to which Williams has fully admitted, and one he says has reshaped his outlook and focus heading into the 2012 season.
"You kind of take it for granted until everything is taken away from you and you see how much football is the biggest part of your life," Williams said. "With that gone, the emptiness that you experience is like nothing else. It was a tough, tough couple of months for me. It was painful to watch the games, kind of like pouring salt into the wounds, but I had to watch. Just to let myself know what I got myself into."
Williams looks very serious when he discusses this issue, and Redskins fans should hope that he is. Not only is Williams at risk of losing multiple millions of dollars -- and an entire season -- if he screws up in the same way again, he's one of the most important pre-existing ingredients for Griffin's success. He is the left tackle -- one that was drafted nearly as high (fourth overall) in 2010 as Griffin was this year. Williams was drafted because the Redskins believe he can be one of the best left tackles in the league, and it is vital that all of his issues -- the suspension, the inconsistency, the in-and-out focus that has frustrated coaches at times -- are resolved starting now.
"I expect real big things from Trent," Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "Trent is one of the most talented players I've ever seen; one of the most talented tackles in this league. If Trent is on his technique, he's going to get bored, because he's going to be able to just block people. So he's really got to work on that technique and be consistent, because as an offensive lineman you can dominate a guy for 55 plays out of 60, but if you have five bad plays, the guy you're going against is going to break the sack record in the NFL. If Trent can be good on his technique, he can be a premier guy in this league, and we need him to be."
Williams has been told this about himself since he was in college -- that he has the raw ability to be the absolute best at what he does. But he has also heard criticism, from coaches and pundits, about his attitude. He's not a bad guy -- quite friendly and generally very happy, actually. But the criticisms that he's maybe not as driven as coaches and fans might like him to be are generally warranted. He's a laid-back sort, and there are times when it looks as though he's relying on his athletic ability to carry the day.
That's why it's important to watch the way Williams reacts, works and plays in the wake of last year's suspension. Was it really a wake-up call that changes the way he looks at his life and his work? Williams is still very young. He doesn't turn 24 until next month. But he has a 3-year-old daughter and, he claims, a renewed sense of responsibility that should show up on the football field.
"If anything, I'm hungrier this year than I was last year just because of what I've been through and knowing how it is to not have football when everybody else has it," Williams said. This year should be big for me."
If it's to be a big year for Griffin, and for the Redskins, it needs to be a big one for Trent Williams. The good thing is that he seems to know that. And if that's the lasting effect of the stupid mistake he made last year, then a great deal of good can still come out of it.