Los Angeles Rams wide receiver D'haquille Williams is ready for his first preseason game Saturday, an opportunity he wasn’t sure would be available after a tumultuous final year in college.
“It’s been a long time since I have been on the field, like in a game, so I am ready to really explode,” Williams said.
The former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout was regarded by draft analysts as one of the top prospects at the position entering his senior season at Auburn but he was dismissed in early October for what Tigers coach Gus Malzahn described as a failure to meet the team’s expectations.
Williams had previously been suspended for the Outback Bowl at the end of the 2014 season and again during fall camp last August. His production before getting kicked off the team disappointed, with 12 receptions for 147 yards and one touchdown in five games.
Williams went undrafted, signing with the Rams in May only after participating in their rookie minicamp.
Coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead warned Williams that any incidents on or off the field would result in him being cut immediately.
“Duke came in and knew he had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity based on some of the things that happened in his history, and we gave him that opportunity,” Fisher said. “He took advantage of it.”
Williams’ attitude and work ethic have not been issues in training camp. He has lost seven pounds this summer and aims to slim down to a playing weight of 220 by the start of the regular season.
Now, it looks as if Williams’ future will come down to football considerations. Williams has the athletic attributes comparable to top receivers around the NFL, using his build and leaping ability to position himself against defenders.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson was ready to go head-to-head with Williams and test that physicality as he watched the Rams’ first special teams practice in pads last week.
“I like Duke, I like Duke a lot,” Johnson said. “I was about to go out there one time and (special teams coordinator John Fassel) got me back.”
However, Williams is still raw running routes after playing in Auburn’s spread-option offense that created favorable matchups. More troubling is Williams’ inconsistency catching the ball.
Williams has showed steady improvement after struggling with drops during the first week of camp. But Williams dropped a pass at the goal line during a two-minute drill at the Coliseum on Saturday, nearly resulting in an interception.
Quarterback Jared Goff went right back to Williams on the next play for a touchdown.
“I feel like I’m progressing,” Williams said. “I can do better, you know, learn from the mistakes I made and make sure they don’t happen twice.”
Whether that development will be enough for Williams to secure a roster spot isn’t clear. The Rams drafted Pharoh Cooper from South Carolina in the fourth round and Southern Mississippi product Michael Thomas in the sixth, while fellow undrafted free agent Nelson Spruce has been steady.
Williams is simply glad for another chance to play.
“It’s a blessing to be right here,” Williams said. “I wasn’t supposed to be here from the issues I went through last year. Worked my way up, stayed humble, continue to stay humble and I'll take none of that for granted anymore.”