WR Roy Williams keeps catching heat

OXNARD, Calif. -- Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams calls himself the Kobe Bryant of his team.

Now, before you start going crazy over that statement, Williams explains.

"I'm not saying I'm the greatest player, because Kobe Bryant is a great player. I'm not saying that by no means," he said. "But either you're going to like me or you don't."

Williams is caught in a delicate situation as he enters his third season with the Cowboys. He signed a five-year extension in 2008 worth $45 million, with more than $20 million guaranteed. The Cowboys signed Williams to the deal after trading three draft picks to Detroit for him.

All Williams has produced is 57 catches for 794 yards and eight touchdowns in two seasons, spanning 25 games. There were three games in which he didn't have a catch, and he missed one game to injury. He also has six games with the Cowboys in which he caught only one pass.

His chemistry with Tony Romo has been nonexistent, although in nearly three weeks of training camp, Williams has found a groove with his quarterback.

Then there's a 22-year-old rookie receiver waiting in the wings to take over. Dez Bryant is no understudy. He hasn't played in an NFL game yet; a right high-ankle sprain has delayed his preseason debut. But his talent is sitting untapped. He has good hands, speed and body control. He's grasping the offense more and more as he waits for his ankle to heal.

Learning the offense is not an issue for Williams. Running it effectively is. He didn't run routes as cleanly as he should have last season. His hands were called into question -- he had a team-leading eight drops last season -- and it seemed everything he said was scrutinized.

"Now, if [Bryant] takes my position, he's got to be a bad man," Williams said. "I've said that over and over. He is good. Don't get me wrong. But he's got to be a bad man."

It's as if Williams has taken over the role of Terrell Owens, who was the marginalized wide receiver with the Cowboys for three seasons before he was cut in 2009.

"Certainly, he's kind of a lightning rod of expectations," Jerry Jones said of Williams. "One of the things I like the most on this thing is he passed the test on how he handles that criticism. He does a great job of it."

Receiver Patrick Crayton said Williams has taken more heat than Owens. And to think, Owens had verbal spats with his quarterbacks (Drew Bledsoe and Romo), wide receivers coach (then Todd Haley) and offensive coordinator (Jason Garrett).

Let's not get into how Owens said he fell asleep in meetings and didn't have command of the playbook when he was in Dallas. We're also not going to get into his spat with tight end Jason Witten in 2008.

Williams' only indiscretion was questioning the types of throws he gets. All receivers do that. He also was in the spotlight when Bryant refused to carry his shoulder pads as part of a rookie hazing ritual. Bryant still hasn't and probably never will.

Several NFL veterans said Bryant was wrong for not doing so. But fans and media ripped Williams, saying his unproductive seasons in Dallas excluded him from telling Bryant what to do.

"If it wasn't for the draft picks and the money he's getting right now, there wouldn't be such a big deal," Crayton said. "But because of what they gave up to get him, he's got to take the brunt of all the abuse."

It's sad, really, when you think about Williams' time in Dallas. He's a Texas guy, having grown up in Odessa and played for the University of Texas. He was drafted seventh overall by the Detroit Lions in 2004. He was traded to the Cowboys and is supposed to be living a dream come true.

But he isn't. No matter what he does, he's not on the same playing field as the other receivers on the team. If he drops a pass in practice, the fans boo or roll their eyes. If Miles Austin or Witten drops a pass, you'd think the Cowboys were practicing in a library.

On Sunday, Austin had three dropped passes, but the fans in attendance shrugged it off.

"Oh yeah, I hear them," Williams said of the fans. "That's why they're fans. They love us. They love the Cowboys. They just want to see us do good. They want to see me do good. I do believe that if things were to pan out with me, all the naysayers would jump on the Roy Williams bandwagon and be a fan."

Austin, however, is coming off a fantastic season. He caught 81 passes for 1,320 yards with 11 touchdowns, earning a Pro Bowl berth. He is becoming a strong part of the Cowboys' offense. He has a nice smile and pleasant personality.

A Jersey guy getting some love in Texas.

Williams, who sometimes wears a beard with his smile and participates in a charity event in Austin every year, can't get any love in his home state.

"Oh, Detroit loved me," Williams said. "Detroit loved me. I was doing my thing out there."

It seems a divorce is imminent between Williams and the Cowboys. It won't happen this year. Probably next year.

But Williams, who has had a strong camp, is fighting. He's not just going to let Bryant or anybody else take his starting job.

Williams has skins on the wall. He was a Pro Bowler in 2006 and is still a dangerous threat. Teams worry about him, not as much as they do over Austin and Witten, but he is a player who can beat you. For a number of reasons, that hasn't occurred in Dallas.

The expectations might be too high to reach, which results in criticism for Williams.

"It's fair," he said. "I mean, I'm not an established guy. Jerry gave up so much for me, yada yada yada. There are so many high expectations for Roy Williams, and he hasn't panned out. He [had] a very average year for an average wide receiver last year.

"For me being who I am, that's very mediocre and unacceptable."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.