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Trent Williams’ position coach addresses the red flags

It was refreshing to hear Trent Williams speak candidly on Friday about his work ethic at the University of Oklahoma. The issue was one of the red flags associated with him during the pre-draft process, and Williams didn’t shy away from it at his introductory press conference when asked whether he ever felt he needed to work harder to fully develop as a player.

“I knew I hadn’t given my 100-percent-all in my first couple of years at Oklahoma,” he said. “There is always room for change and always room to get better.  I just kept that in mind and worked hard to get better.”

Even before Williams said that, I caught up with OU offensive line coach James Patton early Friday to discuss this issue. Patton worked with Williams for his entire collegiate career, so he witnessed Williams’ maturation process.

He echoed Williams’ belief that effort was an issue early on, but he saw progress. Williams was a rugged player in practice and played through injuries, Patton said. He started 45 consecutive games from 2006-09 despite suffering from ankle problems as a senior. After becoming a starter with six games remaining in his freshman year, he missed only one game—and that and that was due to a concussion last year.

Ultimately, Patton doesn’t believe effort is going to be a problem for Williams and the Redskins.

“Because he’s so athletic and so talented, he could probably get by working 80 percent,” Patton said. “But I think he realizes that he’s got a tremendous upside to him. He came to practice every day and had toughness. When he gets [to Washington], he’s going to show what he’s about.”

Mike Shanahan did his homework on Williams and felt comfortable enough to draft him. Actions speak louder than words in this business, and Shanahan’s decision to draft Williams over Russell Okung is as grand an endorsement as there is.

The other major question mark surrounding Williams’ pro prospects involves his growing pains on the left side as he transitioned from the right after his junior season

Patton, however, doesn’t believe that Williams will have a problem refining his play at left tackle as he continues to gain experience.

He had confidence in Williams as a left tackle throughout his career, but Loadholt was a year older and thus had seniority at the position. Williams was great on the right side, but he was the first player behind Loadholt on the left tackle depth chart.

“It was just adjusting stances, and that’s really the only thing that took him probably a couple games to get adjusted,” Patton said. “But he’s a versatile player. He’s explosive. He’s quick. He’s got the feet. He’s got the athleticism to block people, so the transition wasn’t that hard for him.”

Overall, the Redskins are wildly optimistic about Williams’ prospects. One reason for that is his background at Oklahoma, which has recently proven to be a breeding ground for quality offensive line prospects.

Williams is the fifth OU lineman drafted in the first two rounds since 2005. Two of them—New Orleans left tackle Jammal Brown (first round, 2005) and Tampa Bay guard Davin Joseph (first, 2006)—have been to the Pro Bowl. The other two—Minnesota left tackle Phil Loadholt (second, 2009) and Baltimore center/guard Chris Chester (second, 2006)—combined for 28 starts last season and are quality players for their respective teams.

Patton believes that Williams will live up to that standard because Oklahoma prepared him with the skills required for Shanahan’s offense.

“We zone block, we run off the ball with different protections,” he said. “Our guys fit that mold of being in 3-point stances and zone blocking and track blocking and being able to pass-protect different dropbacks and play-action.”

And apparently Williams has the required attitude to go along with that skill set.

“Being an offensive lineman, you have that mentality and demeanor to protect people, and that’s what he’s going to do,” Patton said. “He’s going to give great effort there. His play speaks for itself.”