By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –
GREEN BAY, Wis. — There is no imitating. The real Tramon Williams is standing up — and he’s not going anywhere.
At least that’s what his coaches and teammates repeat.
“He’s the same player,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said. “That’s the thing I don’t know if people realize. He’s the same player.”
“He’s got it all,” cornerback Pat Lee said. “He is that player. He’s doing his thing.”
Maybe so. But the 2011 Tramon Williams is surrendering a lot more big plays than the 2010 version.
Theories vary. In Week 1, the Green Bay Packers cornerback suffered a bruised shoulder that dulled his Velcro-tight style. In Week 2, he lost partner-in-crime Nick Collins to a neck injury. Conspiracists may point to the $33 million contract Williams signed a year ago.
But, bottom line, Williams’ hasn’t been the same shut-down, no-trespassing cover man of a year ago. For the Packers to return to the Super Bowl, they may need him to be. But Williams remains confident.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we do come back and perform the way we did (last year),” Williams said. “We definitely still believe we can do it, and we feel we will go out and do it.”
Last season, the 5-foot-11, 198-pounder was probably the defense’s postseason most valuable player. At the very least, he’s a recurring nightmare for three quarterbacks.
His Olympic leap in the end zone for an interception clinched the wild-card win. Goodbye, Michael Vick. His pick-six at the end of the first half demoralized Atlanta. Peace, Matt Ryan. And in the Super Bowl, he punched the ball out of Mike Wallace’s grasp to win. Good night, Ben Roethlisberger.
His coverage was disciplined. His turnovers were timely. Williams — an avid boxing fan — took on all comers and won by TKO.
This weekend, Williams said he’ll be “glued” to the NFC games. There’s one guarantee for him and the Packers. He must deal with an elite wide receiver. Victor Cruz (1,536 yards, 9 touchdowns), Hakeem Nicks (1,192, 7), Roddy White (1,296, 8), Julio Jones (959, 8), Calvin Johnson (1,681, 16) are all potential match ups.
And Williams is no Floyd Mayweather. He doesn’t dodge. He doesn’t want extra coverage rolled his way.
“No doubt about it, especially if I’m going to be on a guy,” he said. “I want to have that guy.”
Welcome to the Packers’ dilemma. They never did fix the pass rush, finishing 27th in sacks. Voids at defensive end and right outside linebacker remain. No viable threat opposite Clay Matthews emerged. Losing Collins proved costly, too.
While Williams believes the Packers can win with their two safeties, he did say “at some point, you’re going to feel what that loss was. I think we did.”
Coaches often demand Williams to take on receivers by his lonesome. He can’t be a weak link. Whitt said he has had cornerbacks in the past refuse to be put in such one-on-one situations. Williams accepts “stress situations.”
“A lot of the time, he’s going to get the best receiver, and we’re hardly ever going to roll to him,” Whitt said. “He usually has the best receiver by himself.
“A lot of other guys in the league have safeties over the top of them most of the time. He doesn’t. That’s the big difference and he never complains about it.”
Williams has been posterized on the highlight reel.
Against those Giants the Packers may see at Lambeau Field on Jan. 15, Williams was beaten for gains of 42 and 51 yards — both on post patterns. Be it Josh Freeman looking for Mike Williams (11 targets) or Matthew Stafford looking for Calvin Johnson (17 targets), offenses aren’t shying from Williams. They’re going at him.
Don’t let the footage fool you, Whitt says. It’s not all on Williams.
“I know the situations we put him in,” he said. “We put him in difficult situations. Some balls have been caught on him, but they weren’t necessarily totally on him. People don’t understand that. A couple of deep balls there were supposed to be help situations.”
Williams wants none of that. The locker room regular rarely ever leans on excuses, cop-outs. After Calvin Johnson dropped 244 yards on Green Bay’s vanilla defense last weekend — a new record against the Packers — Williams stuck around for 45 minutes.
He’ll take the blame. He wants to be on an island.
“You have to win some of those battles,” said Williams, who has 64 tackles, four interceptions and 22 passes defended. “It just comes down to a time where you know that those guys are depending on you to win some of those battles even though you’re in a stress position in the defense. It really doesn’t matter. No one cares about that.
“The only thing they care about is winning and losing. You have to win some of those battles.”
Last season, he did. This season, he hasn’t as much.
One reason could be the shoulder injury. Williams said it still isn’t as strong as it was but that it’s not bothering him anymore. For “half the season,” he said it did.
He gave receivers generous cushions to compensate and they took advantage. The Packers believed they were better off with a less-than-100 percent Williams than Sam Shields, Jarrett Bush or someone else playing more.
Before this season, Williams never missed a practice — let alone a game — in high school, college or the NFL. He didn’t want to start now.
“You always want to earn your teammates’ respect,” he said. “I felt I did that. They knew the situation I was in. I came out and tried to help the team.”
A message was sent.
“To see him do that, I was like ‘Wow,’ “ Lee said. “Your shoulder, especially playing DB, you need it. And he played right through it. That’s tough. . . .
“He’s fighting through so our whole team should fight through just because of that.”
Not that Cruz, White or any opposing receiver cares for sentimental team-building. Green Bay will be tested. Specifically, Williams will be tested. The Packers will need him to blanket top-tier receivers and force turnovers that have been so crucial this season.
The cornerback says he doesn’t feel any extra pressure. Memories of 2010 are still fresh.
And to be sure, Whitt offers one more reminder. This is still the same Tramon Williams.
“The type of season he had last year was really special,” Whitt said. “Can he have that type of season again? Yes, he can and he will.”