A matter of inches — maybe even less than an inch — separated Preston Williams from the best catch of the preseason and a dud of a second exhibition in Tampa.
A throw by Josh Rosen in the waning seconds of the half was a final, somewhat desperate, attempt to score an elusive touchdown in the Miami Dolphins’ 16-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday. It floated toward Williams at the goal line along the left sideline with two defenders near him and the wide receiver couldn’t make a clean grab. The ball bounced into the air and Williams whirled his body 180 degrees to snare the ball between his left hand and shoulder, and pull in a would-be touchdown.
Instead, he was whistled out of bounds. His left foot had hit the sideline between the initial deflection and the end of the circus catch. Instead, it was just another target for the undrafted rookie ending without any sort of production.
“I really didn’t know until I just got back to my locker and saw it,” Williams said, “and I was like, Oh, man. It was like a little inch, but it’s all good.”
It was one of six targets for Williams in the Dolphins’ loss at Raymond james Stadium -- the most targets of any Miami player in the second game of the preseason.
After a breakout performance off the bench in the Dolphins’ preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons on Aug. 8, Williams got the starting nod Friday and couldn’t follow up his breakout debut. His six targets yielded only one catch for 7 yards and he blew two more opportunities with a pair of drops.
Williams’ spot on the Dolphins’ final roster is almost certainly assured, but the unforced errors from Friday provided a reminder that Williams, despite all his talent, went unselected in the 2019 NFL Draft after piling up 1,345 receiving yards in his final season with the Colorado State Rams.
“It was challenging,” Williams said. “You have your good days and your bad days. It was pretty neutral. I had one catch. Just correct it and go back to work.”
An off-field incident in 2017 is the main reason Williams was passed on for all seven rounds. In 2018, the wideout pleaded guilty to an assault charge after police said he shoved his girlfriend to prevent her from moving from the off-campus apartment the two shared.
On the field, Williams had a disappointing pro day, too, and didn’t get invited to the NFL Scouting Combine because of his arrest. NFL teams decided he wasn’t worth the hassle to spend a draft pick on him, even though Miami evaluated him as a second-day pick.
If there was an on-the-field nit to pick with Williams, it was his hands and the same thing plagued him against the Buccaneers.
Two plays before Williams nearly made his incredible catch, he botched an easy one. The Dolphins were driving for a late score and Williams ran a crossing route from right to left. Rosen threw a perfectly placed ball in front of Williams and the receiver stretched out to make an apparent catch.
It was inside the two-minute mark, though, so officials took a second look at the grab. It was obvious the ball slipped through Williams’ hands and he trapped it against the turf. An 11-yard gain was eliminated and Miami settled for a field goal to take a 6-3 lead into halftime.
“You could have a good day, you could have a bad day. You have to bounce back. My main thing is staying consistent, stacking days and even games,” Williams said. “Just come in, watch the film, correct my mistakes and just come ready to play the next game.”
Brian Flores agreed. It should be a learning experience in what is sure to be a year full of them.
“He’s a young kid, it was his second full game,” the coach said. “Every experience is good for him.”