Terrance Williams is in the beginning stages of his NFL career, but it hasn’t taken him long to break into the Dallas Cowboys’ offense.
Seven weeks into his rookie year and Williams has already established himself as a dependable target for Tony Romo. That might surprise some, considering Williams was a third-round pick out of Baylor last April, but for those who have seen Williams develop at every level, it’s nothing they didn’t expect.
“The only thing about his NFL career that has surprised me is how late he was picked,” said Baylor assistant Kendal Briles, who was Williams’ position coach with the Bears.
“He had first-round production here, and he’s just a technician as far as receivers go. He’s also an unbelievable practice player and better on game day.”
Briles gave a handful of examples of Williams’ work ethic at Baylor from improving his 40-yard dash time from 4.6 seconds in high school to 4.4 coming out of college. He also mentioned Williams’ breakout game when he set school records with 17 receptions and 314 yards against West Virginia last season.
That falls in line with what Joel Evans remembers when he coached Williams at Dallas’ W.T. White High School. He vividly recalled a game against Lancaster when Williams broke loose for scores of 80 and 60 yards on bubble screens.
“He always seemed to be a step ahead of everyone he ran against,” said Evans, now an assistant coach at Garland. “He’s deceptively fast and we counted on him to do an awful lot. He played safety on defense, returned kicks... just meant a lot to us in all phases of the game.”
Still, Williams wasn’t a highly sought-after recruit in high school. He was a two-star prospect and opted to stay in-state when the Bears offered him a scholarship.
At Baylor, he emerged as a star receiver and was a unanimous first-team All-American his senior season. Those accolades didn’t move him high on many draft boards, though, as he fell to the third round.
Has being overlooked in high school and college served as motivation for Williams?
“In a sense, yeah,” Williams said. “But I just feel like things happen for a reason. I went to a college where not too many people knew about it and we changed that around. So that does continue to motivate me.”
It seemed like it could take Williams some time to break into the Cowboys’ system, however. He failed to get an audible and ran a wrong route in the season opener against the New York Giants, which resulted in an interception off Romo.
Since then, Williams has gained back the confidence of Romo and the Cowboys’ coaches. He has seen his playing time increase on a weekly basis, playing in more than 65 percent of the offensive plays the past four weeks.
“It’s tough to play wide receiver in the NFL as a rookie.… The jump from college to the NFL is a big one for those guys,” Romo said. “They are used to winning on speed and now that’s not enough. It usually takes them a while, but Terrance is picking it up quickly and that’s exciting to see.”
Williams had a breakout game against Denver three weeks ago when he had four catches for 151 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown reception as he ran past Broncos cornerback Tony Carter.
He has caught touchdown passes the past two weeks, too, becoming the fifth rookie in club history with three TD receptions in three straight games. Hall of Famer Bob Hayes did it twice in 1965. No rookie has caught touchdown passes in four consecutive weeks.
Williams has a chance to become the first Sunday in Detroit. If he does it, it surely won’t surprise those who saw the NFL potential early in his football career.
“I know how bad he wanted to be a professional football player,” Briles said. “Now he’s reached that and now he’s being successful at that. You like to see that all those fruits of labor are paying off, and that’s what makes us proud. He deserves and earns everything he gets.”