Williams, a fourth-year pro, sought some advice from the second-year player that he’s scheduled to replace in the slot Saturday when Tennessee hosts Atlanta at LP Field.
Wright is not playing because of a knee sprain he suffered after making his fourth catch against Cincinnati last week, but Williams caught up with him this week to learn a few things that Wright’s discovered.
“I’m not naïve enough to think you can’t learn from somebody that’s younger than you, so I’ve been just doing that and going out there working,” Williams said. “Basically, in the slot you don’t have to be as precise necessarily but you have to be able to move people, and what I mean by move people is moving them off their grass, displacing them, or if somebody’s inside, you want to keep them inside or if you’ve got to move inside of them, you’ve got to be able to square up. Those are really good tips to have when you’re playing (the slot).”
Williams said receivers can rely on body language and use their eyes to help with the task.
“A lot of times, linebackers and safeties and those guys are usually not great at covering in space, so you can move people with your eyes and that kind of stuff, but nine times out of 10 you just want to be square with the person and give yourself two ways to go,” Williams said.
The goal is creating space between receiver and defender to widen the throwing lane and give the receiver the chance to come down with the ball, secure it, gain yards and minimize the number of times a defender is able to deliver a punishing hit.
“You know the big hit is coming and there’s ways to protect yourself while you’re in there doing that but still make the big plays,” Wright said. “Protect the ball and keep the defender off you.”
Atlanta’s starting safeties William Moore and Thomas DeCoud are a strong tandem and will present a challenge in the middle of the field. Both made the Pro Bowl in 2012 after combining for 194 tackles, 10 interceptions and 17 passes defensed.
Wright, the 20th overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, led all rookies with 64 catches last season. He brought a learner’s attitude that inquired from veterans
“I’ll teach anybody in the position whatever I know or how to get open on certain stuff because most of the time they’re not used to doing it,” Wright said. “That’s what I’ve been doing since OTAs and all of training camp so I guess it’s not really challenging, but it’s good that somebody came to me for help instead of me asking for help all the time.”
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said he thinks Wright is “one of the better slot players in the league … and is a guy I definitely trust and count on to make plays for this offense.” Loggains added he’s been “extremely pleased” with Williams.
“I think Damian has been the guy that’s maybe had the best camp that no one is talking about,” Loggains said. “The last two preseason games he’s made tough catches, he’s gotten open. He’s a guy that’s a competitor, and I think (receivers coach) Shawn Jefferson has done a great job of bringing that side out of Damian.”
Williams’ ability to play each receiver position in Tennessee’s offense has been one of his strengths. He is capable of spelling Britt, Washington or Wright at any moment while enabling Loggains to create different matchups.
Although much of his work has been with the second team in the first two preseason games, Williams is leading the team with 100 receiving yards on six catches this preseason.
“I think you guys know Kendall is a dynamic player and a guy that creates matchups for you everywhere, so you obviously miss him when he’s out,” Locker said, “but I think Damian has done a really good job in the first two games and throughout this training camp of stepping up and making plays for us. He shows up everywhere, so he’s a guy that knows all positions, can go and play any position anytime you need him to and I think he’s really done well in this training camp. I’ve got a lot of trust in him and am excited about having him in there.”
Although Wright wants to return as soon as possible, he thinks Williams will do a solid job.
“It will be easy to him,” Wright said. “Damian knows all the positions and has been making plays all preseason. It will be almost natural for him, so he won’t have any problem.”