If you had to describe the 2012 version of Tramon Williams in a single word, you might pick "acceptable" and not feel too badly about it. 61 tackles, 16 passes defensed, and two interceptions are acceptable numbers for a starting NFL cornerback. Doing well against a few of the league's big name receivers (Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall) and not so good against others (Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston) is acceptable. Being on the field for all 16 games is also acceptable, if not expected.
But acceptable is not what we're used to when it comes to Mr. Williams. In the Packers' Super Bowl Campaign of 2010, he was exceptional, even elite. Knocking down 20 passes and intercepting six others puts you in elite company, and stepping up your game in the playoffs puts you in elite elite company.
Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. The 2010 Divisional Playoffs. Aaron Rodgers putting up video game numbers. The Packers steamrolling through the first half on their way to an NFC Championship date with the Bears. All of that fades away in comparison to one magnificent play by Tramon Williams:
As soon as the ball left Matt Ryan's hand, you knew it was as good as six points the other way. Williams broke that early. Larry McCarren knew it, too. Even though he yelled "INTERCEPTION" as soon as Williams touched the ball, what he really wanted to say was "TOUCHDOWN'" or "WE'RE GOING TO THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME" or "I JUST PEED A LITTLE."
However, thanks in part to a shoulder injury in 2011, we haven't seen that kind of playmaking out of Tramon Williams in quite some time. His numbers in 2011 were okay, and as we've discussed already, his numbers in 2010 were (say it with me) acceptable. But acceptable isn't what you want from your big time cornerback, especially in a division where you'll play Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, and Greg Jennings twice a year.
For Williams to get past "acceptable" and back to "exceptional", a couple things have to happen. First, he needs his shoulder to be completely, 100% healed, and he assures the Journal Sentinel's Tyler Dunne that it is:
"It's better," Williams said. "Trust me. It's better than last year. But last year I was good. The structure was good. But when it comes to nerves, it's time. And there's nothing at all you can do about it. It's time. Time passes and it gets better, so I'm better."
Second, Williams would benefit from some stability in the rest of the secondary. Though Morgan Burnett has been a rock (he played every defensive snap last year), the other safety spot and the corner spot opposite Williams have been in flux recently. This year, with Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, and Davon House re-signed, no longer a rookie, and finally healthy, respectively, there should be some sort of continuity opposite Williams. What happens at strong safety remains to be seen, but it certainly won't be less settled than it was last year.
Third, Williams might just have do something as simple as making good on his own words. In the previous Tyler Dunne article, Williams said he wants to be a good leader for the rest of the secondary:
We know that when Charles was here, he had that role," Williams said earlier this off-season. "He was the leader of this group. He taught us things. And I'm going to keep that alive — I'm going to keep that alive. I'm going to come out and do the same thing. The younger guys usually come to me for things anyway. So whatever they need, I'm going to try to get those guys up to speed to play."
If that's what he wants, great. Go out and do it. If he lives up to his word, maybe we'll start to see the Tramon Williams that gave Matt Ryan something to think about all off-season.