JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Troy Williamson is sometimes like an ambulance going through traffic. Everything seems to move out of the wide receiver's way as he speeds through.
One such moment was Sunday when bodies started flying in every direction at the snap of a play during the second day of the Jacksonville Jaguars' training camp. With the safeties coming up the field, Williams ran through the defense faster than you could say "three-step drop," finding a hole in the seam of the defense while simultaneously making the cornerback in charge of covering Williamson appear to be running in sand.
On a field filled with great athletes, Williamson's speed is as obvious as a siren during a moment of silence.
If Williamson, who had three mostly quiet years in Minnesota after being the No. 7 overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, can finally harness that speed, perhaps the rest of the NFL will begin to notice that Jacksonville has become one of the top offenses in the league.
AccuScore on the Jaguars
The Jaguars are forecasted to have a very good season with an 82 percent chance of making the playoffs (fourth best in the AFC) and a 34 percent chance of dethroning Indianapolis in the AFC South. The Jags are averaging 10.8 wins per simulations (essentially the same as the 11 last season). The defense is performing well, holding opponents to an average of 19 pts per simulation. The Jags are forecasted to score one fewer point per game than in 2007 because of their difficult schedule. Besides playing in perhaps the toughest division in the NFL, the Jags face tough defenses including Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago and Baltimore.
David Garrard had a phenomenal 102 passer rating in 2007. Prior to '07, he was an 80-83 rated passer. With a tough schedule, Garrard is forecasted for a 91 passer rating in 2008 (lower than '07, but still very good). The Jags definitely need Garrard to maintain a 90+ rating. AccuScore ran simulations where Garrard's 2007 statistics were excluded. In these simulations the Jags only averaged nine wins per season and their chances of making the playoffs decline to 40 percent.
Projected Record: 11-5
Playoff Probability: 81.7%
In 2007, Jacksonville began to shed its defense-first reputation. The Jaguars were sixth in the NFL in scoring at 25.7 points per game. During the final 10 games of the regular season, the team scored at least 24 points in each game, averaged 30.4 and ranked second in the league over that stretch behind New England. In the playoffs, the Jags put up 31 at Pittsburgh.
Much of the credit goes to the play of quarterback David Garrard and planning of then first-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
"When you score that consistently and effectively, it's because you're regularly getting good play at quarterback," said head coach Jack Del Del Rio, who showed stunning management skills last season with the hiring of Koetter, the switch to Garrard over Byron Leftwich on the eve of the season and his aggressive play-calling on fourth down. "We got really good quarterback play and we feel we're a ways from the ceiling with (Garrard). There's more room there for him to play better."
In search of further improvement, the Jags signed Jerry Porter as a free agent and traded a sixth-round pick for Williamson. With Porter sidelined because of a hamstring injury and not expected back until around the start of the season, Williamson will get every chance to be the big-play threat the Jaguars haven't had since Jimmy Smith was in his prime.
"We feel like we've added a couple of guys at receiver with Porter, Troy and (2007 draft pick) Mike Walker," Del Rio said. "If those guys can make some plays around David, we get that much better."
That remains a big if, of course. Porter is an enigma, a talented guy with a baggage. While with the Raiders, Porter commonly wore a t-shirt that featured a balled-up hand with one finger pointing out to salute the world.
With Williamson, the problem for him with the Vikings was that it almost looked like he was trying to catch the ball with his fists. He had a brutal case of the drops which got to the point of being a mental block.
"With everything that was going bad, I actually did let it get to me mentally," said Williamson, who also went to Nike headquarters to have several tests done on his eyesight before the 2007 season. "But I went back and looked at things I did in high school and college and realized I still had it in me.
"It's just when things started to go bad and you listen to everything that's out there, it gets you down. With me being in Minnesota before, you always get reminded of it, dropped balls and such. But here I rarely get reminded of it. That's why I take everything here in stride and I actually got a coach I want to play for. That makes a big difference."
Last year, the relationship between Williamson and Vikings coach Brad Childress got to the point of all-out distrust on Williamson's part. In September, Williamson's older brother Carlton got into a car accident and went in and out of a coma. When Williamson asked for a couple of days off to see his brother, he said Childress said no. Then, when Williamson's grandmother died in November, Williamson left the team for the funeral, missed a game and was subsequently fined by Childress. The fine was eventually rescinded after public pressure, but that was the end of the relationship between the player and coach from Williamson's perspective.
"I was so glad to get away from Minnesota because me and the coach (were) not on good terms," Williamson said. "I loved the (other coaches), but it was bad with Childress. We couldn't even talk to each other after the fine. Wouldn't say nothing. It was that bad. I couldn't trust him."
Williamson said Childress tried to repair the situation, but it was too far gone.
"He tried to explain it to me, but it didn't make no sense to me … I had another brother who died when I was 12 and he was the brother I was closest to in age, who I grew up playing ball with. So after that happened with my brother and then my grandmother passed, there was nothing going to stop me from being with my family," Williamson said.
The relationship between Williamson and Del Rio hasn't hit any rocky spots yet. So far, there is nothing but promise.
"He's come in, worked hard and tried to get better every day. That's all we've asked of Troy or anybody else," Del Rio said. "We're not looking back at what happened in Minnesota, just trying to look forward. There's no story there yet. Let's let one develop."
If Sunday was an indication, it could be quite a development.