Last summer, he was the guy nobody really knew.
Sure, he was fast, relished contact and had a nose for the ball, but Tramon Williams was simply stuck in too huge of a logjam to be considered on the 53-man roster.
But as he did with defensive tackle Daniel Muir, general manager Ted Thompson rewarded Williams a roster spot at a position already loaded with depth. Essentially, Williams pulled the upset by beating out Patrick Dendy. The choice seemed more like a token of gratitude than an uncovered gem – a feisty overachiever to plug into the special teams units.
But apparently, that heated battle at cornerback throughout the 90-degree summer days rubbed off on Williams. He was barely used at all during the first 11 games, but when Jarrett Bush was exposed horrifically at Dallas, Williams was suddenly vaulted into the nickel spot. Now in year two, Williams enters camp as the frontrunner for the No. 3 CB job behind Charles Woodson and Al Harris.
With most key roles on the team settled, look for the cornerbacks to take center stage throughout camp. The recent Organized Team Activities practices provided a snapshot of what lies ahead. Williams’ confidence is soaring, but much like last season, the competition should turn into day-to-day war.
Out is free agency causality Frank Walker and in is second-round pick Pat Lee. Will Blackmon remained sidelined with a foot injury during the voluntary workouts. Harris and Woodson also sat out at times, which gave Lee, Williams and Bush increased reps. Williams was consistently the strongest candidate throughout the last four weeks of practice. Lee was up-and-down and Bush made the most plays last Thursday.
"It’s going to be a great competition," Williams said. "These guys have worked hard also and that will make the game real interesting."
Added Bush, "The competition is healthy stuff. It keeps me on my game and makes me better. I like competition. I’m all about it."
During Green Bay’s 13-3 season in 2007, one weakness seeped through the cracks. While the team’s aggressive, bump-and-run style can effectively throw off the timing of an offense’s entire game plan (see: divisional playoff win over Seattle), it can also come back to bite you in the rear. Dallas and New York each used pre-snap audibles to easily exploit the Packers’ tight-pressed corners. Eli Manning, particularly, picked the lock to the scheme at the line by simply signaling to Plaxico Burress which shoulder to turn around for the ball.
For the most part, Harris and Woodson excel in that in-your-face style, which sets the tone for Bob Sanders’ defense. But what happens when one is missing? Tony Romo passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns.
And Bush was promptly demoted.
Despite limping down the stretch last season, Bush is by no means a bystander in the offseason race. Last Thursday in practice, he broke up a seven-yard out pass intended for James Jones from Aaron Rodgers in an 11-on-11 drill. Bush backpedaled, stopped on a dime and quickly lunged forward to force Rodgers’ first incompletion on the day.
The pads weren’t on, which minimized contact, but it was a key case-in-point play for the Packers’ defense. Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders never hesitates to put corners on islands. How Williams, Bush, Lee and Blackmon succeed in such situations will go a long way.
"It was our basic man-to-man coverage," said Bush of the play. "(Jones) ran a hitch and I sort of came off a little bit. I saw him stop and I drove to the man. I saw the man and just drove through his hands to separate the ball from the receiver."
During red zone work, Bush also punched the ball out of Ruvell Martin’s hands in the end zone. The 6-foot-4 Martin appeared to pluck the ball out of the air over Bush’s head. But the 6-foot Bush didn’t give up and forced the incompletion.
"I think my physical ability at the line of scrimmage (is my strength)," Bush said. "Just getting my hands on the receiver."
The Packers’ coaching staff has switched defensive backs at different spots throughout OTAs, and it plans to continue that strategy.
"There is so much competition there," McCarthy said. "I think the whole secondary, as a whole, we’re going to have to let go of some very good players. That’s a group, both safety and corner, that has a lot of depth. That’s why you see certain individuals being trained both at the safety and the corner, and in nickel or dime at the slot position. That is our approach and in training camp we’ll sort that out."
As creatively reigns, one fact remains. There won’t be a dull moment during every 11-on-11 snap through this week's mini-camp and training camp. Williams has a grip on the job now, but as last summer showed, anything can happen.