ALLEN PARK, Mich. (April 29, 2005) -- Mike Williams' long, agonizing wait is over.
The Detroit Lions' receiver was finally back on a football field -- with teammates -- for the first time since helping Southern California beat Michigan in the 2004 Rose Bowl.
"It's been a long time, a real long time." Williams said.
He hoped to be an NFL rookie last season.
After a court ruled in February 2004 that Maurice Clarett was eligible to play in the league, Williams hired an agent and tried to follow him. But an appeals court overturned the earlier ruling and upheld the NFL's right to bar players who had been out of high school less than three years.
Williams attempted to return to USC for his junior season, but the NCAA turned down his request last August. He was relegated to working out on his own until the Lions opened their minicamp.
"It's a lot of fun to just be a part of a group again," said Williams, the 10th pick in the draft. "I definitely didn't feel rusty or out of place, like you think I would."
After some light running and stretching, Williams stood and watched the first 10 plays during a drill before getting a chance to run a route.
Later, he lined up as a slot receiver in a four-wide set alongside Roy Williams, Charles Rogers -- first-round picks the two previous years -- and Kevin Johnson with Joey Harrington at quarterback.
Detroit cornerback Dre Bly said it reminded him of practicing against the St. Louis Rams.
"For opposing defenses, it can get ugly," Bly said.
The knock against the 6-foot-5, 229-pound Williams has been his lack of speed. He ran two 4.59 40-yard dashes at the NFL combine.
But it didn't take him long to show Bly he's fast enough for professional football, running past him on an inside route.
"I wasn't expecting him to get out of his break like he did," Bly said. "He was so explosive -- so fast. He had me flipped and turned around. It kind of caught me by surprise."
Williams said he doesn't pay attention to critics who have him pegged as a tight end in the NFL.
"I might not run fast on a track, but I play fast," he said.
Williams played two years at USC, catching 81 passes for 1,265 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman, then making 95 receptions for 1,314 yards and a school-record 16 TDs in 2003.
"He's a huge target," Harrington said. "He uses his body and hands well."
The Lions usually reserved their three- and four-receiver sets for third downs, but Lions coach Steve Mariucci envisions using those formations more on first and second downs this season.
That's assuming Rogers is healthy for the first time in three seasons.
The second pick overall in 2003 played five games as a rookie before breaking his collarbone, then broke it again in the season opener last year.
"He's got to be more comfortable -- not just physically, but mentally," Mariucci said.
Though he was limited to non-contract drills, Rogers insisted he's healthy.
"I feel good," he said. "Everything is going great."
With a potentially explosive receiving corps and promising running back Kevin Jones, many have said Harrington will not have any excuses during his fourth season in the NFL.
"I always put more pressure on myself than anybody from the outside," he said.
The Associated Press News Service
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