He’s baaack: Williams returns to form

He’s baaack: Williams returns to form

Tramon Williams is back.

In truth, this is not breaking news. Since the very first day the Green Bay Packers opened training camp this summer, Williams has looked more and more like the elite cornerback he’d become during the 2010 season and less and less like the shell of his former self he was last season, when a Week 1 shoulder injury not only forced him to miss the first game of his football life but also left him playing one-armed for the remainder of the year.

“He’s been doing it all camp,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Friday. “It’s good to have him back.”

That much was abundantly clear during Thursday night’s 27-13 preseason victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, where Williams blanketed Bengals star receiver A.J. Green. Despite having a team-high six passes targeted for him, Green – the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft who caught 65 passes for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie last season – caught just one pass for 3 yards in the game, most of which he spent with Williams on him.

“My mindset is, I’m not feeling any effects at this moment, and I’m just playing,” Williams said. “Physically, I’m just playing. (The shoulder) is holding up well, and I’m not thinking about it.”

That’s a long way from where he was last year, of course, as both Williams and cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt confessed after the season that Williams probably should not have played though his injury.

Inadvertently hit by safety Nick Collins late in the team’s Sept. 8 victory over New Orleans, Williams suffered nerve damage in his right shoulder that caused him to miss the following week’s game at Carolina. When he returned, he struggled with being physical – both at the line of scrimmage, when jamming receivers in man-to-man press coverage, and when tackling receivers after the catch.

“I think there’s a difference in Tramon,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Last year, he fought through and played with that shoulder the whole season. I think you see him (this year) sticking his head in there to the point where he’s in good position to make the tackle. I like what I’ve seen from Tramon at this point.”

Especially in coverage, where two plays in particular stood out on Thursday night. After an Aaron Rodgers interception set the Bengals up with the ball at the Packers’ 25-yard line, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton went right to Green on the first play from scrimmage, but Williams not only broke the pass up but probably should have intercepted it.

After wide receiver Brandon Tate converted a third-and-7 with a 10-yard reception when Jarrett Bush overran the tackle, Dalton looked to Green again on first-and-10 from the Packers’ 12. And again, Williams broke up the pass, and the Bengals would wind up settling for a field goal.

“Tramon would definitely go in the category of a shutdown corner, someone you could match up weekly on a top receiver,” McCarthy said. “It’s well-documented about how he went through the season last year with the injury. But the one-on-one plays he makes – particularly with the fade routes in the red zone area – you really see his coverage ability come to light.

“He’s playing really well. And as a defense, you can play to that. Any time you can tilt the defense one way or the other, it definitely plays to your advantage.”

Williams certain tilted the field in 2010, when he made a name for himself as one of the league’s elite cover men and delivered huge plays in the postseason, including a game-turning interception return for a touchdown in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Atlanta. And with uncertainty at the other cornerback spot following Charles Woodson’s move to safety in the base defense – Jarrett Bush, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and an injured Davon House are all in the hunt for the job – it’s even more important that Williams be the difference-maker he is used to being.

So far, he’s been just that – which is exactly what he expected to do this preseason, as he disputed the notion that he needed to re-prove himself this summer.

“I wouldn’t say that because mentally I was past that. I wasn’t worried about anything. I was confident that my shoulder was going to hold up,” he said. “I’m not worried about it anymore, I’m not thinking about it anymore.

“In my mind, I’m just playing, and there’s nothing wrong.”