GREEN BAY – Time was not on Ed Williams’ side last summer.
The hourglass was emptying when the 6-foot, 196-pound receiver signed with the Packers three days into training camp. He faced long odds at making the first cut down, to 75 players, let alone the final roster.
Green Bay was carrying six returning veterans in addition to third-round pick Ty Montgomery and five undrafted rookies who had the benefit of participating in the offseason program.
So Williams did the only thing he could – he went to work. He asked questions to anyone within earshot and pulled several late-night study sessions to catch up on the playbook.
The rash of injuries that preceded his signing allowed him plenty of reps. Ten days after signing, Williams caught his first pass in the preseason opener against New England.
Welcome to the NFL.
“Yeah, it was a lot thrown my way, but what do I expect?” Williams said. “You come into camp late and they’re not going to say, ‘He doesn’t know it, let’s give him time.’ There is no time. I just have to cram, cram, cram on those nights. Not really any sleep.
“This is my chance with one of the greatest programs in all of sports. I was just happy to be here and do what I have to do to stay here.”
Williams impressed the Packers enough to earn a spot on the practice squad for the entire 2015 season. It was a gratifying moment for Williams after unsuccessful tryouts at New England and Kansas City rookie camps in the spring.
In many ways, the arduous process of breaking into the professional ranks has mirrored his own college experience. A native of Tampa, Fla., Williams first played at Toledo before transferring as a sophomore to Fort Hays State, a Division II school in Kansas.
His only connection to the Tigers’ program was receivers coach Al McCray, a Miami native who previously taught and coached high-school football in the Tampa area.
“My dad gave him a call and said Ed is leaving Toledo and looking for a new home,” Williams recalled. “They gave me three years (on scholarship) instead of two. It worked out for me really well.”
Williams had 1,617 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in three seasons with a bulk of that production coming during his senior year (53 receptions for 946 yards and seven TDs).
The process of getting NFL looks was tedious. So once he landed in Green Bay, Williams immediately took veterans Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson up on their standing offers to answer any questions that popped into his head.
Williams took notes from backup quarterbacks Scott Tolzien and Brett Hundley, and worked closely with offensive quality control coach Luke Getsy, who was assisting quarterbacks/receivers coach Alex Van Pelt.
Getsy wouldn’t just hand Williams answers, but always was willing to walk through his mistakes. When Head Coach Mike McCarthy made the decision to split Van Pelt’s job responsibilities this offseason, Williams was pleased to find out Getsy had been promoted to the position on a full-time basis.
“He just helped a lot. Good coach,” Williams said. “AVP helped us out a lot, too. Both played a big part in how I learned the system, along with the other guys. Luke being a receiver coach now, I feel like is best for us. Knowing exactly what we need to do with our job.”
Williams admits the Packers are “loaded at receiver right now” with seven former draft picks on the roster and a fresh crop of hungry undrafted rookies.
All he can do is continue to work and improve. After the season, Williams concentrated on developing as a route-runner and tackling every special-team concept thrown his way.
Having the opportunity to participate in a full offseason program in Green Bay has been priceless. It’s a benefit he wasn’t afforded a year ago when he was playing catch up throughout training camp.
Peering into the main locker room from his spot in the auxiliary wing, Williams has taken notes on how Cobb and Nelson conduct themselves on a daily basis. It’s that microscopic attention to detail that’s the difference.
“They’re not just out there going through the motions,” Williams said. “They’re still out there doing every little detail. It teaches you that if I want to play, I have to be able to take the classroom to the field, as well.
“You have to believe in the system because the system is designed for you to win. If you believe in the system, then you’ll be successful.”