For Williams, who went undrafted out of Louisiana Tech back in 2006, all of that effort has paid off, both literally and figuratively, after he signed a long-term contract extension with the Packers this week.
“I can’t say enough about Tramon,” McCarthy said. “I am just so proud of him as an individual, and I think he is an excellent example for (rookie free agents) Frank Zombo, Sam Shields and Nick McDonald. For a young man not to be drafted to coming in here and taking full advantage of the resources in the offseason program.
“He has done everything that we have asked him to do from a professional standpoint. He has taken full advantage of it. He has earned every opportunity that was given to him and he has done something with it. I take a lot of pride in seeing a man like Tramon get paid and accomplish what he did financially this week.”
Entering the NFL with Houston as a non-drafted free agent, Williams was with the Texans during the ’06 preseason before being released in the final roster cutdown. Another opportunity didn’t come his way until the Packers signed Williams to their practice squad in late November after he had been out of football for nearly three months.
Even though he was with a team that featured a pair of established cornerbacks in Charles Woodson and Al Harris, Williams immediately felt it was the right landing spot for him, with the veteran duo playing a role in that.
“It was one of those deals where you came here and I was taken in by the DBs,” Williams said. “They made me feel like I was at home here. I talked to some people in the organization, (former defensive backs coach) Lionel (Washington), (John) Schneider (former director-football operations). He made me feel like I was welcome here and I was here to play, and that did a lot for my confidence.
“The guys I played across from, Charles and Al, were big parts of that. Sitting there and watching those guys, watching how professional they are, on and off the field, that helped a lot.”
After finishing out the ’06 season on Green Bay's practice squad, Williams earned a roster spot with a strong preseason the next year. He would go on to play in all 16 games, plus both playoff contests, with one start as he rotated in as a nickel and dime back. Williams was the primary kickoff returner too while also occasionally returning punts, highlighted by 94-yard punt return for a touchdown vs. Carolina in Week 11.
Williams took on a bigger role the next season, with Harris sustaining a spleen injury in Week 3 that would sideline him for four games. Williams took over as the starter at right corner in Harris’ absence and returned to his customary nickel spot when the veteran returned, finishing the season with a career-high nine starts and a career-best five interceptions.
It was another Harris injury, this time one to his knee that ended his season in Week 11 in 2009, that moved Williams back into the starting role opposite Woodson. It would be a spot Williams never would vacate as he started the final six games in '09 and every game this season, with Harris being released by the team on Nov. 8.
“He has worked very hard to get to this point,” Woodson said. “He got himself an opportunity, and you never know when your opportunity is going to come. His came this year and he grabbed it and took a hold to it and he’s been a starter ever since.”
While Williams continued to impress last season, leading the team with 22 passes defensed while adding four interceptions, McCarthy said the challenge put to Williams in the offseason was to improve his tackling. That focus has been on display this year as a noticeably more physical Williams has posted 51 tackles in 11 games, just one stop shy of his career high of 52 in ’08, in addition to his team-leading four interceptions and a team-high 16 passes defensed.
“(Tackling) is important for him, especially in this defense with the way we play our Cover-2s and that sort of thing,” Woodson said. “You’ve got to come up and play the run. He knew if he wanted to be on the field he was going to have to do that, and I think it’s just a mindset to say, ‘This is what I have to do and I’m going to do it.’
“I just think he is playing a complete game right now. He is covering and he is tackling as well. At times he is asked to guard No. 1 receivers when I am on the inside or whatever our game plan calls for. He has stepped up big. He has made some big plays for us and continues to make plays. The way he has been playing, it’s just a testament to the way he works and how much he cares about the game.”
Williams was playing under a one-year contract after re-signing as a restricted free agent back in June, but said the uncertainty of his long-term status never became a distraction for him. His attitude was that the situation would take care of itself if he continued to work and prepare the same way he always had, an approach that has served him well from the start.
“It’s always a good story to go out and tell people when someone does things the right way,” Williams said. “You treat people the right way, you do everything pretty much the right way, and people treat you for it. That’s what the organization has done.”
A pair of practice-squad players, first-year linebacker Robert Francois and rookie cornerback Josh Gordy, were elevated to the active roster on Wednesday.
The players were filling the roster spots created by linebacker Brandon Chillar and tight end Spencer Havner, who became the 12th and 13th players respectively to go on season-ending injured reserve for the Packers this season. Francois has spent time on both the active roster and practice squad this season, appearing in three games, while Gordy has been with the team on the practice squad since Week 2.
Chillar and Havner each sustained their injuries on the same play on Sunday at Atlanta as they covered a kickoff on the final play of the first quarter. For both players, the injuries were ones that they have been battling throughout the season, Chillar’s a shoulder injury that he originally sustained back in Week 3 at Chicago and Havner’s a hamstring injury that he suffered earlier this season in Week 5 when he was with Detroit.
“Anytime you lose players to IR, you never want to see that happen,” McCarthy said. “Brandon hurt that shoulder in the Chicago game in Week 3, and it’s really a credit to him on how he fought through week in and week out to get back out on the field and he finally just couldn’t do it anymore after the tackle on the kickoff coverage there in Atlanta.
“Spencer re-injured his hamstring that he injured over there in Detroit, but I can’t say enough about Brandon Chillar, the way he fought through to get back on the field for us.”
McCarthy said special teams is always the unit that is affected most by injuries, and both Chillar and Havner had been key contributors there during their time in Green Bay.
“This is our 12th game of the season and we are going to line up with our 12th different punt unit,” McCarthy said. “That’s just part of the challenge. I am very confident in the way they are coached. These guys are putting extra time in. They are here on their off day. They are here Tuesday night. The Tuesday night meeting is growing and growing each week.
“The commitment is there. The challenge of the 49ers is that they have some very good special-teams players. There are some things that they are doing uniquely well this year, but I have confidence in our players. It’s just a part of stepping up and it’s part of the character that we have expressed all season.”
Safety Atari Bigby (hamstring), wide receiver Greg Jennings (foot), cornerback Pat Lee (ankle), running back Dimitri Nance (concussion) and safety Anthony Smith (ankle) did not participate in practice on Wednesday.
McCarthy said Nance, who was injured in Sunday’s game at Atlanta, was “getting better” and possibly could be cleared to return to practice on Thursday.
Tackle Chad Clifton (knee), safety Nick Collins (shoulder), defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf) and linebacker Clay Matthews (shin) were limited participants.
Collins also sustained his injury at Atlanta, and while McCarthy said Collins will likely be limited in practice this week, he anticipated that he will be able to play against the 49ers.
Woodson (toe) and defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle) participated fully in practice.
For San Francisco, tackle Joe Staley (fibula) is out for Sunday.
Center David Baas (concussion), linebacker Parys Haralson (ankle), cornerback William James (concussion), kicker Joe Nedney (right knee), cornerback Shawntae Spencer (quadriceps) and running back Brian Westbrook (ankle) did not participate. Wide receiver Josh Morgan (shoulder) was a limited participant.
Additional coverage – Dec. 1