Williams: "I know how to play"

Bears kick returner and wide receiver Chris Williams is the smallest man on Chicago's roster, yet he's ready to prove his skill set can overcome his lack of ideal size.

In today's NFL, size matters.

Most professional players, particularly those at the skill positions, have an elite blend of size and speed. It's the reason they are paid millions to play a kid's game.

Yet there are exceptions. Just ask Tim Jennings, a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback who at 5-8, 185 pounds is one of the smallest corners in the league. Obviously, if you have an amazing skill set, you can overcome a lack of size.

For Chicago Bears wide receiver and kick returner Chris Williams, he's out to prove that, despite his small frame, he can have an impact for the Monsters of the Midway this season.

At 5-8, 175 pounds, Williams is the smallest player on Chicago's current 88-man roster, yet he's confident in his ability to perform at this level.

"I've been dealing with that my whole life," Williams told Bear Report. "I honestly don't care what anyone says. I know how to play and that's what I do. I just go out there and play my game."

Williams' game includes blazing speed. Coming out of New Mexico State in 2009, Williams ran a 4.28 40-yard dash at his pro day. That type of straight-line speed is very rare, which is what made him so successful as a kick returner in the Canadian Football League.

Playing for the Hamilton Tiger Cats, Williams scored six return touchdowns in 2012, which set a single-season CFL record. His ability to break away from opposing coverage units was key in his success up North.

Yet Williams said he's actually faster than his recorded 40 time.

"Honestly, that's probably not my best 40," he said. "It was acceptable at the time. I was a little bit heavier than I am now so I was proud of it. I can run faster than that. The last one I can remember doing was maybe three, four years ago, like mid 4.2s."

There aren't many players who can keep pace with Williams, which is one of the major reasons the Bears signed him late last season. His big-play ability now has him entrenched in a competition for the club's starting kick and punt returner jobs, positions left open after Chicago parted ways with Devin Hester this offseason. Williams is competing with experienced NFL returners Eric Weems, Armanti Edwards and Micheal Spurlock, a battle that won't likely be decided until well into the preseason.

"It's exciting," said Williams. "We've got a lot of good guys here. This is unlike any other OTA or camp I've ever been in. Everyone is really, really good at what they do. There is a lot of competition and guys are going to be making a lot of plays. It's exciting and I'm just glad to be a part of it."

His speed gives him a leg up but Williams knows there's more to being a successful kick returner than just his ability to run.

"It's a little bit of an art form," he said. "You've got to be patient. It's like being a running back. You have to set everything up, you have to patient and when the opportunity presents itself, you have to be able to hit the hole with speed. That's one thing I've been blessed to be able to kind of get a sit back and get a look at how everything progresses and learn everything. Now that I've been in football in a couple of different leagues and different place and different coaching styles, you see how everything, even though it's called differently or named differently, everything is really the same."

With Hester now in Atlanta, the Bears have a pretty significant hole to fill. If Williams can step into that role and produce like he did in the CFL, Chicago's third phase won't miss a beat. Yet before that happens, he needs to prove that he can withstand the punishment of the NFL, something he'll have to show once training camp and the preseason are under way.

"I just have to go out there and compete and show what I've got," said Williams. "Make plays and make people miss, get good yardage and good field position."

And that's the key in this battle. The Bears don't need a returner to score multiple touchdowns this year. It would help but the team's offense is one of the best in the league. They scored the second most points in the NFL last season in Marc Trestman's first year at the helm. With all 11 starters returning, the offense has the potential to be very special this season.

When Hester was returning every other kick for a score, Chicago's anemic offense of last decade needed that support. Under Trestman, that won't be necessary. If Williams can prove reliable – a returner who can secure the ball, not run backwards and give the team an advantage in field position – that should be good enough.

"The first thing [you look for] is returner mechanics," said special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. "You want a guy who can make all the catches. You want a solid punt return guy that can square up his body, make sure he's makes the right decisions, because that's really the biggest part of being a returner is making the right decision, in my opinion. And then the second thing is the talent with the ball in his hand. If you can identify a guy that can make plays in open space, that's really what you are looking for."

The competition will intense between Williams, Weems, Edwards and Spurlock, but if Williams can do the little things right, his home run potential should earn him the starting gig.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.


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