Caught in Spider-Man's web

WESTMINSTER - Demetrius Williams' right biceps is decorated with a large tattoo of Spider-Man, with the comic-book hero striking a bold pose in front of his trademark spider web. Of course, a football is ensnared in the web. At the rate the Baltimore Ravens' gifted wide receiver is progressing, he might well live up to his Spider-Man nickname by leaping into the end zone and grabbing touchdowns.

It seems highly unlikely that Williams, who picked up his nickname at Oregon because of a tendency toward one-handed catches, will be referred to by a tattoo that adorns his left arm, a collection of grinning clowns.

"Some of my friends call me a clown because of the way I act around them," said Williams, whose My Space page is a tribute to his growing popularity. "I like to have fun and joke around."

About the only amusing aspect of Williams' game is the unsettling effect his crisp patterns have on defensive backs. Their stumbles, flailing arms and jerky movements tend to be a common reaction to how Williams accelerates into his routes as the Ravens' primary deep threat.

"He kind of has the same mannerisms as Torry Holt, the same body control and the way he turns and gets out of routes," Baltimore receivers coach Mike Johnson said. "He's going to be a big-play guy for us. With Todd Heap, Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, he gets a lot of good matchups. "He's a very sure-handed guy. He had the best hands in the draft last year. He's reliable. The one thing I like the most about Demetrius Williams is he's fearless."

Williams' skills were on display during the Ravens' scrimmage Saturday against the Washington Redskins. He caught three passes for 38 yards, spinning the Redskins' cornerbacks around like human tops.

One year after catching 22 passes for 396 yards and two scores as a rookie with a team-high 18.0 average, team officials have heightened expectations for him. It's a sentiment Williams shares.

"This year, I have a better sense of what to do," Williams said. "This year is more about just working on technique and not as much thinking. Once you get rid of the thinking, I think your ability starts to come out and you can just play your game."

Williams lasted until the fourth round a year ago despite an ultra-productive college career with 162 career catches for 2,660 yards and 20 touchdowns. However, a relatively pedestrian 40-yard dash time of 4.50 seconds kept him waiting until the 111th overall pick.

He arrived in Baltimore determined to prove he was better than any receiver picked ahead of him, including: Santonio Holmes, Chad Jackson, Sinorice Moss, Greg Jennings, Travis Wilson, Derek Hagan, Brandon Williams, Maurice Stovall, Willie Reid, Brad Smith, Cory Rodgers and Jason Avant.

"He doesn't see himself as a fourth-rounder and neither do we," Johnson said. "He's deceptively fast. Last year, he timed out at 4.50, but he has a slow start. You put him on the football field and he plays much faster.

"He sneaks past safeties and cornerbacks. It doesn't mater who he lines up against, whether it's Champ Bailey or below that, he's going to compete."

Growing up in Northern California, Williams' father counseled him to always believe that when the football is in the air that it's his property.

"I keep that attitude close to my heart," Williams said.

Williams finished last season in impressive enough fashion to make any father proud. He caught a career-long 77-yard pass for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns in December, recording two receptions for a career-high 100 yards. One week later in his first career start, he caught two passes for 45 yards, including a 25-yard score, against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"They're depending on you to make a play for them," said Williams, whom cornerback Samari Rolle compared to Cincinnati Bengals All-Pro wideout Chad Johnson. "So when they throw the ball to you, it shows you some of the courage they have in you. It definitely makes it a lot easier, and it gives me a lot more confidence."

The Ravens plan to field a more explosive offense this year with lots of conversation about the one-back formation and three and four wide receiver packages. Williams' development is critical to those ambitions.

"They're spreading some things out, and you see a young receiver like Demetrius Williams kind of emerging and you see that he's going to be something to be dealt with," linebacker Bart Scott said. "I think it's another added weapon to our team."

At 6-foot-2 and an angular 197 pounds, Williams isn't an imposing target. However, he's much stronger in the weight room than a year ago.

"I didn't really lift weights that much in college," said Williams, who never lost a game in high school as a Super Prep All-American at powerhouse De La Salle. "I'm not a big guy, but I've put on some strength so I can block better and get off jams at the line."

There has been a clamor among fans for Williams to progress beyond his role as the third receiver, but he remains behind starters Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton.

At the moment, he's still the Ravens' not very well-kept secret.

"We all saw what Demetrius could do last year," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He needs to build on that."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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