No longer an afterthought

Tramon Williams was not recruited out of high school, went undrafted out of Louisiana Tech and failed to win a spot on the lowly Houston Texans as a rookie. Overlooked throughout his career, he has blossomed in Green Bay and will replace standout Al Harris on Sunday.

On Oct. 3, 2006, the Packers made big news by releasing cornerback Ahmad Carroll, their 2004 first-round draft pick.

Eight weeks later, on Nov. 29, 2006, the Packers didn't exactly lead the 10 p.m. news by signing Tramon Williams to their practice squad.

The Packers needed all of four sentences to announce the signing, and the fourth was to help journalists pronounce Williams' unusual first name. There was no reason to go overboard on the signing, after all. Williams was an undrafted rookie who couldn't make it out of training camp of the lowly 5-year-old Houston Texans.

Turns out, Williams wasn't just a fresh set of legs to work in the scout team.

Williams' play on the practice squad merited him an invitation to training camp in 2007, though he was more or less an afterthought. In the media guide, he didn't even get his whole page, instead listed under "other free agents" after some guy named Devarick Scandrett.

Being an afterthought is nothing new for Williams. Not only did he go undrafted despite being a first-team all-Western Athletic Conference selection as a senior at Louisiana Tech, he went unrecruited out of high school in Napoleonville, La.

How do you explain that?

"I don't know, man," the 25-year-old Williams said after the media horde dispersed from his locker on Wednesday. "Sometimes, you look back and it's just one of those things where someone slid through the cracks and people never noticed. But I never got down on myself. I always believed in myself and I always have proved the odds wrong. Not even the odds, but maybe people just didn't pay attention to me. So, I always worked, and eventually, they paid attention to me and was like, ‘This guy maybe can play.' Like people say, you can't hide talent. Eventually, it comes out."

The Packers will need that talent, that belief, more than ever on Sunday, when Williams starts for the first time in place of Al Harris on Sunday at Tampa Bay.

That the Packers are counting on Williams is a testament to a player's refusal to give up, to thorough work by general manager Ted Thompson and his scouting department and the efforts of defensive backs coaches Lionel Washington and Kurt Schottenheimer.

"He really has come out of nowhere in a sense compared to the normal path," coach Mike McCarthy said. "He came in the free agent path, and you could see the ability. I think that was clearly evident since the day he arrived and then playing on the opponent teams and even playing some wide receiver.

"You could always see the talent, but the work ethic and he has the long arms. He has all of the characteristics and attributes you're looking for our style of play and his work ethic has just been tremendous. So, it's a credit to him and his coaches and now he gets the opportunity that every young player is looking for."

Perhaps because his 5-foot-11 stature isn't ideal in this era of big receivers, Williams entered training camp last season at the bottom of the cornerback pecking order. Williams wasn't listed among the cornerback contenders on the team's official training camp preview, but he stood out from the first practice of training camp. Then, on Family Night, he delivered a jarring hit to Chris Francies and intercepted Aaron Rodgers to really open some eyes.

"Of course, you want to go out there, and once you make plays, you get that feeling like, ‘OK, I belong here,'" Williams said. "It's nothing different than from what you've been playing. It's just football. Some guys make it bigger than it really is, and that's when the downfall comes. You've got to have confidence in what you've been doing your whole life, and that's playing."

Williams' strong preseason play earned him a roster spot. He was named the NFC's special-teams player of the week after returning a pooch punt 94 yards for a touchdown to help beat Carolina on Nov. 18. Eleven days later, with Charles Woodson sitting out the game at Dallas with an injured toe, Williams replaced a struggling Jarrett Bush as the No. 1 corner opposite Harris.

When Woodson returned, Williams slid into the nickel role, a gig he held on to for the rest of the season, then held off a challenge from Will Blackmon to remain the No. 3 corner heading into this season.

"Tramon has been a great surprise for us," McCarthy said. "Starting back when he was acquired in Year 1 and just the way he developed from Year 1 to Year 2 in the offseason. He's a true testament to hard work, the offseason program. He had a good year last year, and we feel very comfortable letting him step in there and play. I'm excited for him, and we won't even blink with him in there."

That's a bold statement. While Williams did his part in shutting down Dallas' Terrell Owens last week, he also was beaten deep by Miles Austin for a back-breaking touchdown. But Williams says he's been studying Harris and is ready to show what he's learned.

"The guy's a great player," Williams said. "Just the way he prepares for a game, the way he studies a receiver, the way he breaks down film, everything. I'm going to bring everything to the table and show that experience that I learned from him and myself."

While Williams will be making his first professional start, he's not totally inexperienced. Williams played all 16 games last season, though half of those were limited to special teams. Including last year's playoffs and the first three games of this season, Williams has played defense in 11 games.

"At one point," Williams said, "I didn't think experience mattered that much, but you know, it really does matter, and I'm glad I've got that under my belt. I'm ready to just go out there and show it."

The Buccaneers threw 67 passes last week, and no doubt an offensive guru like Bucs coach Jon Gruden will put a bull's-eye on the back of Williams' jersey. Williams says he won't be nervous, and acknowledges that if he were Gruden, he'd target the short guy wearing the No. 38 jersey, too.

"I'm the new guy, you've got Charles Woodson on the other side, why not? But, you know, we'll see what's going to happen," Williams said.

Williams admits he might be nervous before his first NFL start, but he swears it won't be "nerves of scared." Instead, the nerves will be the excitement that comes from a player who's been overlooked for his entire career.

"I've always been a confident guy," Williams said. "I've always had to work myself up, from college on up. Walk-on at college, had to work myself up there, came in here (after being undrafted). It was never a problem, because I've always been a hard worker, I've always had the confidence, always felt like I was the best. I just always had to show it, it felt like."

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