Williams still developing
Mike Williams knew it. As soon the ball hit the turf back at Penn State a few weeks ago, Williams knew he'd hear it on the sideline from his position coach, Wide Receivers coach Jaime Elizondo. But Elizondo had a different approach, and a different type of criticism.
"I really jumped him on the sidelines when he missed a block on a bubble screen. That was a bit of a turning point," said the first year assistant. Elizondo has held similar assistant positions not only in the Canadian Football League, but in the NFL and in the FCS ranks at Hofstra.
Elizondo used the opportunity to beat a practice makes improvement mentality into his star receiver.
"You always look at how well a player prepares, how well they're taking notes, how well they're studying their game plans, and with Mike I challenged him after the Penn State game and said that 'you're not the player we need you to be right now'."
Williams, coming off a yearlong suspension after getting into some academic trouble, took his coach's advice to the detail. According to Elizondo, Williams had his best week in practice on field but off the field as well following Penn State. The more tied in to the game plan, thinking about things like route adjustments, said Elizondo, is when a player's off field preparation is tying into his on field style.
When a player is breaking down individual plays his entire focus will be "I know exactly what I'm doing - now I can look at the defense because I have a plan. I can see the safety rotation and say okay, they're bringing pressure, my route will adjust this way," said Elizondo.
And the work paid off the next week for Williams in SU's first win of the year against Northwestern. 11 catches, 209 yards, and a pair of touchdowns.
"He has changed both on and off the field. I think when you go through a situation like Mike did, you get a little hungrier and you get a chance to put things in perspective but I've seen him grow as a person and when you grow as a person off the field I think that translates to on the field success," said Elizondo.
Even after SU's loss to USF this past week, it helps noting that Williams has caught a ball in 25 consecutive games. That streak is longer than a certain player named Marvin Harrison had at SU (21).
Coaching Williams takes on a particular style because every football player is different and is coached a different way, said Elizondo. Some players need that pat on the back while others respond to hard coaching. Going into his first season coaching Williams, Elizondo recognized there's a lot to be done before even evaluating the player on the field.
"I think the first part to a player regardless of ability and regardless of the potential is developing a relationship with them first. From a player perspective there always has to be a sense of 'hey can I trust this new coaching staff, this new coach, is he going to make me better?' Once you get to know that player a little bit better, you get a better sense of how to coach them."
It helps that Elizondo has helped players put together a mentality and skill set for the NFL in the past. Marques Colston, a versatile pass catcher who currently plays for the New Orleans Saints, was under Elizondo's tutelage not only in his collegiate days at Hofstra but also for a year in the NFL, when Elizondo was with the New Orleans Saints in 2007.
"Similar to Marques, Mike needs a lot of work on route definition, route running, and the smoothness of his routes. From the wide receiver perspective, you're always looking for different weaves and stems and techniques to use in that route running."
And while Williams may be an exciting on field talent, it's the basics that'll help him be a better player.
"The big thing we're trying to teach especially at the receiver spot is that it is all about execution and the ability to execute with detail. As (Former NFL Head Coach)Tony Dungy says, 'you don't win on emotion but on execution'. That's really where we (and Mike) need to continue to make improvements: in the details of the executions."