Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To Chart His Future, Left Tackle Trent Williams Remains Mindful Of His Past
ASHBURN – Trent Williams learns a lot about himself in weeks like the last.
To prepare for the challenge of facing defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora, as he will Monday night when the Washington Redskins host the New York Giants, Williams will watch a significant amount of film of his two opponents. He’ll identify their tendencies and he’ll study their footwork, trying to find a slight edge.
This week, though, was unique. Williams has faced the Giants five times in his career, which offers him the opportunity to look at previous games. He’ll focus on how he played not only on Oct. 21, but also how he fared last season – and, woefully, the year before.
“I’m ashamed of it,” Williams said. “I’m embarrassed by it, to be quite honest. It just wasn’t good. To be a rookie it was OK, but I try to hold myself to a higher standard.”
Perhaps no player has been more constantly evaluated during his time with the Redskins as Williams, who was the first player Mike Shanahan drafted after he was hired as head coach before the 2010 season.
Williams has constantly professed a desire to be the best left tackle in the NFL, and his play at times has hinted at the potential to be just that. But lapses like last season, when he was suspended for the final four games after failing multiple drug tests, continue to haunt a player whose biggest criticism in college was of his motivation.
“He had the reputation coming up but he’s very talented,” Shanahan said. “In fact, coach [Bob] Stoops says he’s probably the best athlete he’s ever had at Oklahoma as an offensive or defensive lineman. The question was work ethic – ‘When’s he going to get to the next level?’”
Williams was a Big 12 champion and a unanimous all-America selection during his four years at Oklahoma, where he rarely concerned himself with the little things – the conditioning program, the film review, the offseason workouts. If he could be successful with limited preparation, he thought, why bother changing anything?
His rookie year answered that question for him. Williams, chosen fourth overall and handed a six-year, $60 million contract with $36.75 million guaranteed, was credited with allowing 11.5 sacks that season. While his strength and quickness was rarely a match for opponents in college, players like Umenyiora and Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware had little difficulty handling his inexperience.
“I noticed that when I first got in the NFL, my life changed so dramatically overnight that you know, football was kind of hard to focus on,” Williams said. “After my rookie season, I just had to sit down with myself and take a timeout and realize that football was what got me to this situation.”
When Williams reported to training camp last July, his coaches and teammates applauded the effort he put into improving his strength and conditioning after his rookie year. His teammates voted him a team captain halfway through the season, though the suspension for failing a drug test, which came during the offseason and during the lockout, seemingly discarded much of the goodwill Williams had built.
“I know he had that mistake at the end of last year, but he manned up about it,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “Definitely made a stupid mistake, but he’s come back. He’s been accountable. He’s been the same guy every day. He hasn’t been up and down like you get from a lot of players.”
Again voted a captain by his teammates, Williams has tried to live up to his role as a leader. He’s battled knee, ankle and now thigh injuries this season but played through all of them, believing it’s his responsibility to do so. He’s taken pride in his continued development into a complete player, hoping it will lead to his first selection to the Pro Bowl.
With his past clouding his reputation, Williams can only say so much before his actions take over. That, incidentally, is exactly how his teammates describe his leadership style.
“To [whom] much is given, much is expected,” Williams said. “If this is all I’m going to do and it’s what I’m going to be known for, I have to do it to the best of my ability and try to be the best at my position. I made that change a couple years ago, and it’s continuing to develop and make me a better player and a better person.”