ASHBURN, Va. (CBSDC/AP) — The latest in a long line of Washington Redskins knuckleheads.
That was Trent Williams a year ago, after he was suspended for four games by the NFL for testing positive multiple times for marijuana. He was a first-round pick gone bad, fitting right in the tradition of a franchise that’s seen far too much off-the-field misbehavior in recent years.
But Williams did something a lot of miscreants don’t do. He owned up to his mistake, didn’t hide in a shell of denial or blame his problems on others. The third-year left tackle did not want to be remembered as a dope-head, and he set his sights on having his name associated with nicer words.
Pro Bowl left tackle, for example.
“I bust my butt all offseason with that on my mind, and it fueled my fire a lot of days,” Williams said. “And to be able to come out and perform with the best in the league and be noted as a Pro Bowl guy, it’d just mean that all my hard work, it just wasn’t (whistling) in the wind. That accolade would just kind of let people know how far I’ve come and how far I’m matured and the type of player I’ve become. That’s what I really want to be known for.
“I don’t want to be known for the guy who failed multiple drug tests. That is me, in a sense. It did happen. I embrace that wholeheartedly. That happened, but I have an opportunity to change it, and that’s what I want to do.”
Coach Mike Shanahan last week said that Williams is having a Pro Bowl season, although coaches naturally push any player who’s doing well. If Williams is going to make it, he’ll probably need disproportionate support from the coaches and players in the voting because his reputation hasn’t been rehabilitated fully among some fans.
“Obviously they haven’t really heard my name with a positive sense in the years before this,” he said.
It works in Williams’ favor that the Redskins (8-6) are winning and lead the NFL in yards rushing, and that he benefits from fame-by-association as the player who protects the blind side of uber-popular quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Also, everyone loves a player who plays hurt, and Williams has been doing just that since Thanksgiving Day, when he collided with teammate Kory Lichtensteiger early in the win over the Dallas Cowboys. The injury is often cited as a “deep thigh bruise” in the left leg, but that tells only part of the story.
Williams said the impact with Lichtensteiger left a pool of blood “about five or six inches long, three or four inches wide” coagulating between layers of muscles.
“They couldn’t drain it. It was too deep,” Williams said. “So there was nothing I could do but play through the pain.”
And play he has. Williams has started each of the Redskins’ 14 games this season.
Williams estimated that he’s been playing at about 70 percent effectiveness from a physical standpoint in the three games since he was bruised. He said a similar injury his rookie year would have landed him on injured reserve because he wouldn’t have been able to compensate by playing smarter.
“It slows me down, definitely,” Williams said. “I have to rely more on my coaching and technique, other than just trying to use athletic ability to go out and maul guys.”
Williams’ athleticism has never been in question. It’s why he was Shanahan’s first draft pick as Redskins coach, taken No. 4 overall out of Oklahoma in 2009.
“The question was work ethic,” Shanahan said. “When’s he going to get to the next level? I’ve seen that maturity since he’s been here, learning how to be a pro, learning how to be accountable, learning how to lead, different things that you’re hoping your guys are going to do.”
Teammates saw a new Trent Williams during the offseason program and at training camp, then rewarded him by electing him to be a team captain on offense. Outsiders might have wondered about the symbolism of such a move, coming so soon after the suspension, but the players saw someone who had moved on from his troubles.
“Trent’s stepped up his level of commitment to the team,” Lichtensteiger said. “To be elected captain after an incident like that says a lot about how we feel about him as a player, as a leader on this team. It’s been a really good year for him, both on the field and off the field in the locker room.”