State Needs To Get Ball To T.J. At Tight End

He's NC State's strongest player based on bodyweight. He won the team's Top Conditioned Athlete award for the heavyweight division.

He set a school record for receiving yards by a tight end with 444 a season ago. He checks in at 6-3, 260 pounds, yet he provided the Pack's second-longest play of the year in 2003, taking a pass 75 yards for a touchdown against Virginia. He received honorable-mention All-ACC recognition.

He has one catch in two games this year.

His name is T.J. Williams, and everyone around the NC State program knows that getting him more involved in the offense is mandatory. Unfortunately, opponents know that, too.

"We're growing together [as an offense], but it has been a little disappointing for me," said Williams. "But I'm just here to help the team whatever way I can. It doesn't matter if I catch four balls in one game or not, I'm just here to help the team win.

"I would like a little more catches and I'd like to contribute more, so hopefully everything gets off on the right note and I'll bounce back from those two games."

"It's important to get him the ball if he's open," said coach Chuck Amato. "It's not very easy to get him the ball if they're covering him with a couple of people, which people are doing.

"He's a quality receiver; we know where he's at."

Williams has battled shoulder injuries since arriving in Raleigh, and after missing spring drills following surgery, his contact work was limited in fall camp. In a sense, he is still rounding into playing shape, but no one could have expected that he would have a single reception in the first two games of the year. ABC's television analysts noted that the Pack offensive staff has made it a priority to include Williams more often during the Ohio State game, but after taking an early screen pass 13 yards against the Buckeyes, he wasn't heard from again.

Except for in the running game -- his kick-out block helped spring tailback T.A. McLendon on his 11-yard touchdown run against Ohio State. Williams has worked hard to become a better blocker, especially since he is often viewed at the Wolfpack's receiving tight end while John Ritcher is known as the better blocker.

"From the Ohio State game, I've seen that I've improved tremendously [in blocking]," Williams said. "I had a lot of great blocks in that game, and I feel like, being in practice, everything is going well and I feel like I'm getting better at that. That's one thing that I really want to focus on in my game; I'm not too much worried about the receiving part, but I'm just getting everything down so I can be a complete tight end."

However, he isn't ready to say that he gets as much satisfaction from a well-executed block as he does from taking a short pass and barreling through defenders for a sizable gain. Williams reeled in 28 passes a season ago, including three for scores. Young quarterbacks often turn to proven tight ends as safety valves when they get in tight spots, so it was expected that Williams would catch many more balls from new starter Jay Davis in 2004.

Though that hasn't been the case quite yet, Williams and his offensive mates are confident that Davis will get the offense in rhythm in short order.

"He's learning, and that's one thing about playing football, is learning from your mistakes," said Williams. "He's got the weapons around him and he's a good quarterback at that … He had a few messed-up plays, but everything should be all good. He should be able to bounce back and learn from those experiences and make everything better when we come back into it."

"It's just a matter of putting him in the right spot at the right time," Davis said of his big tight end. "The last couple of games, we haven't been clicking as an offense, and we need to find a way to get him the ball to kind of help the whole offense out. It's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, I think."

Last season, Amato said he warned the offensive coaches that he would move Williams to defensive end if they didn't involve him in the action more often. Williams laughs those words off, but admits that it feels good to know that the head man views him as a big part of the offensive attack.

"He always says that and he threatens the coaches, but I've been thinking of it in a joking way," said Williams. "I'm here just to play and help the team out in the best [way]."

He isn't going to be a Terrell Owens or a Keyshawn Johnson and demand "the damn ball," so it's up to Davis and the offensive braintrust to come up with creative ways to get the ball in Williams' hands. The rarely seen tight end screen against the Buckeyes was evidence that the coaches aim to do just that. Another factor could be that Davis has to develop trust in Williams to come down with the pigskin even when it appears that he could be covered.

"He's a big guy that can run, and that combination is tough to handle for a defense," Davis said. "When you try to put a linebacker on him, he can run by them. When you try to put a DB on him, he just kind of manhandles them or whatever. So he's real tough to cover in that aspect.

"It helps to have a guy like that on your team."

It would help even more if the Pack can find more and better ways to get Williams into the action, a development that would be a huge plus for NC State this week and beyond.

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