Buccaneers WR Mike Williams didn't sound like a player in need of a wake-up call in an interview with PFW earlier this month. The rookie with a checkered college career seemed more like someone determined to prove that any poor decisions he made in the past weren't going to be repeated.
His pro career was off to a fine start. He had become the No. 1 wide receiver on a playoff-contending team and had not been in any trouble, but a little more than a week after our interview, he was arrested for DUI.
Tests showed Williams' blood-alcohol level was under the legal limit of .08, and he agreed to take a urine test, the results of which were not yet known at presstime. After posting bail, he went a step further, offering to take a drug test at an independent facility to show the Bucs and all those who were ready to say, "I told you so," that he hadn't proven his doubters right.
He took the test, and Bucs GM Mark Dominik said he was pleased that it showed Williams didn't have any other substance in his system that would have impaired him.
Some say it was only the latest in a series of signs that Williams, despite his faults, was worth taking a chance on in this year's draft.
When the dreaded "character concern" label gets applied to a prospect, it's a tough one to shake, as Williams found out on draft weekend, when he was passed up until the Bucs selected him in the fourth round.
Dominik was coming off a 3-13 first season at the helm in Tampa, but he took a risk and was probably influenced by a conversation with Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone, who either kicked Williams off the team or watched the player quit the team last year.
"I think if you talk to Tampa Bay and the general manager there, he would be able to tell you I'm not of the mind to try to stop someone from becoming a better person," Marrone told PFW. "That's really how I look at it. ... I really felt that Mike was going to do well. I really did. I relayed those things.
"There are a lot of positives about Mike, and the way he's performing is not a surprise. He's a very competitive kid."
Williams leads all rookie wide receivers with 701 yards and he has scored six touchdowns one season after no Buccaneers wide receiver had more than four. Perhaps just as encouraging, although not that surprising, was the response of the Bucs' captains to his DUI arrest.
While Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris pondered how to discipline Williams, CB Ronde Barber, MLB Barrett Ruud, C Jeff Faine and QB Josh Freeman went to Morris and said Williams deserved to play that Sunday. It was reported that their argument emphasized that his blood-alcohol level was under the legal limit.
NFL players watch out for each other, but if the captains thought Williams threatened to set them back with reckless behavior, they might have responded differently.
The team didn't suspend Williams. It fined him an undisclosed amount for his actions, and the truth is that, despite the DUI arrest, the 23-year-old Buffalo native has done very little to make the Bucs think that drafting him was anything other than a wise move.
This column first appeared in the Dec. 5 print edition of Pro Football Weekly, which features a cover story on Packers OLB Clay Matthews, an in-depth look at how the Eagles stack up in several areas, personnel analyst Nolan Nawrocki's rundown of the top D-line prospects in the upcoming NFL draft, lots of fantasy football tips and much more. The Dec. 5 print edition is on sale at retail outlets, or you can order your copy online at PFWstore.com.