SEATTLE, Wash. — In the first half of the Seattle Seahawks' 30-13 Monday night win over the St. Louis Rams, rookie receiver Doug Baldwin had one reception on two targets for a grand total of 4 yards, and no targets at all in the second quarter. But in the third quarter, Baldwin had four catches on four targets for 67 yards and a touchdown, ripping up the St. Louis pass defense.
Asked about the difference between the two halves, Baldwin, who finished the game with seven catches for 93 yards and that touchdown, put the credit squarely in one place — on the shoulders of veteran teammate Mike Williams.
"Mike has really helped expand my knowledge of the game, and of coverages," Baldwin said after the game. "When we came in [the locker room] at halftime … I couldn't read the coverages in the first half, to be honest with you. But Mike sat down and talked with me, and we were able to get a feel for what they were doing. It really helped out."
It certainly did, but the unique aspect of the relationship between Williams and his younger receiver compadres is that Williams' targets have seriously declined in his second year with the Seahawks after an improbable comeback from his early washouts with the Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans. Various injuries have stripped Williams of his ability to be the team's top receiver even after free-agent acquisition Sidney Rice went on injured reserve, but unlike many of the top players at his position, Williams now spends a lot of his time lifting those younger players up.
Baldwin is not the only one crediting Williams for his own ability to understand defense; second-year wideout Golden Tate also points to Williams' support as a key factor in his ascent through the second half of the 2011 season.
"Mike's done a great job teaching the young guys like me, and Doug, [Ricardo] Lockette, [Kris] Durham when he was with us," Tate said after the Rams game. "I actually sit beside Mike in meetings, and any questions that I have, I can ask Mike and always rely on him to give me a very legitimate answer. It's great to have guys in the locker room like Mike … I think we have a bunch of intelligent guys who understand the game of football and can help the younger guys."
Williams actually had two key third-down receptions in the Rams game, but he hadn't caught a pass in either of Seattle's previous two contests, and a 2011 total of 16 catches for 205 yards and one touchdown comes far short of expectations after Williams' 2010 season, in which he caught 65 passes for 751 yards and two touchdowns. Williams received a new and incentive-laden contract as the result of his comeback campaign, which would seem to make the need for targets even more of a priority in his own mind.
As Williams said in the locker room Monday night, things aren't always what they seem.
"You know how it is — I'm going to take a lot of [crap] from people — I'm [supposedly] looking like I don't want to play, or whatever," Williams said. "I let them deal with that, and it's really about what my teammates think. The guys that are here, they know what I can do, and I just have to keep pushing. I need to be a pro about it, and be just as happy about the guys around me who are making plays."
How has he helped Baldwin with coverages? In effect, Williams acted as an ad hoc position coach, and the effects were dramatic. "He just came to me and said, 'Oh, they kinda got me on that one. What do you see? What do you think it is?'
"It's just part of it. I get a lot of film work in, just by myself. I've learned that the more film you watch, the slower the game becomes to you, because you see it before it happens. That's what our coaches try and relate in the room. If you see it before it happens, it slows down and you can react."
As unusual as this kind of relationship may be, Williams is getting a different kind of fulfillment out of a mentorship role that is new to him. He relayed that during his time in Detroit, when he became one of the biggest draft busts of the last decade due primarily to a lack effort and understanding of the game, he never had any older and more experienced teammates try and show him the ropes. Now that he's been given a new shot at the NFL by Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll (who also coached him at USC), Williams feels the need to pay it forward despite a missing link in the chain.
"I don't think it requires any extra attention; it's just being a veteran in the room," Williams said. "Being a veteran in the group. Being a good teammate. This year hasn't been the year I wanted it to be, health-wise or numbers-wise, but you've still got to be a pro, and you've still got to help the guys out. I love what Doug brings to our group and the kind of player he is, so I just have to do my part. That goes for Golden — that goes for all those guys.
"This is the first time Golden's really taken on the workload of a starter and playing a lot of snaps, so it's still new to him. And Doug — he's having a great year, but he's still a rookie. So you've got to play your part. It's really more hats off to those guys for being able to take the information and a step further than that, to ask. Some guys, you start playing well, you think you have it all figured out, so it's a testament to our guys that they still want to learn and still want to get better.
"I'm happy for [Doug], and I joke with him all the time that most of his big plays, I'm on the outside, taking double coverage off. But it all works for me, and whatever it takes to win — I really enjoy playing with those guys."
Tate said that all the work Williams has done with the group despite his declining numbers speaks to the veteran's character to such a degree that he couldn't imagine Williams acting any other way.
"It's tough to be such a dominant player and not receive the reps or the balls that you think you deserve," Tate said of Williams. "But he's still encouraged to play, and he's still encouraging the other guys on the field. When I wasn't playing very much, I was supportive and cheering him on when he made plays. Same for all of our guys. We're like a family, and we're happy for each other."
For the man who has created that family atmosphere, it really is about helping out any way he can. Perhaps it's the knowledge that the NFL can be so easily taken away (Williams was out of the league for two full seasons after ballooning up to 270 pounds and being cut by the Titans in July of 2008) that makes him so determined to stick with the program and ensure that those who come after him mine the ore of their potential in all the ways he did not.
"It's a little bit of give-and-take now," Williams said. "You're starting but you're not. The same things that were bothering me injury-wise in training camp are still going on, so I'm just trying to do the best I can. I can only control what I can control, and a couple of plays have gotten away from me this year. That's uncharacteristic, but I do the best I can."
And he does so in some uncharacteristic ways.