Jaguars' Troy Williamson Shines Early, But Stars Aren't Made Pre-Season

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Jaguars' Troy Williamson Shines Early, But Stars Aren't Made Pre-Season
(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Amidst a ho-hum start to the preseason for Jacksonville, with two uninformative losses under the rebuilding Jaguars' belts, receiver Troy Williamson has provided fodder for the grasping sports media.

Williamson's 221 yards on seven receptions, including a 74-yard go-route score Saturday night that showcased his trademark deep speed, lead all NFL receivers after two weeks of exhibition football.

Without raw data to report from Jacksonville's position battles on the offensive and defensive lines, media attention has gravitated toward Williamson's statistical production. Several sources have described him as an "emerging star" and a key ingredient for the team's offense this season.

The Jaguars would certainly appreciate a clear-cut starter opposite free agent signee Torry Holt. Since trading for Williamson after the 2007 season, Jacksonville's receiving corps has undergone a youth overhaul; Mike Sims-Walker, who has nine starts in two seasons, is the team's only other receiver with regular season experience.

Three rookies—Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard, and Tiquan Underwood—were drafted to compete for playing time. Thomas has missed both preseason games with a hamstring injury, and neither Dillard nor Underwood has played particularly well.

But Williamson's performance, though a positive sign for a team still working out offensive and defensive kinks, should hardly be considered a revelation.

Minnesota thought the sky was the limit for Williamson in 2005. As a rookie, he made three catches for 103 yards in his first preseason, including big gainers of 54 and 36 yards.

Three seasons, several key regular season drops, and countless failed technical and medical fixes later, the Vikings were content to unload their perpetual project on the Jaguars in exchange for a sixth-round pick.

More recently, in Jacksonville's 2008 preseason finale at Washington, Williamson caught four passes for 84 yards. In eight appearances, including one start, during the ensuing regular season, he managed only 30 yards on five catches.

In that game against the Redskins, as in his four-catch effort at Miami last Monday, Williamson's production came on passes from backup quarterbacks caught against backup defenders. Only one of his four receptions against the Dolphins, a seven-yard slant that he fumbled, was from David Garrard.

Considering Williamson's history of regular season struggles, his lack of success against first-team competition is cause for suspicion—and, aside from the play-action bomb on the first play against Tampa Bay, that catch-and-fumble is his only reception this preseason against opposing starters.

Even Williamson's big catches this preseason aren't free of red flags. On both long gains Saturday night, he allowed the ball into his pads before cradling it for the catch—the same passive, haphazard receiving style that wrecked big plays for the Vikings in his first three years in the NFL.

Solid NFL receivers attack the ball in the air with reliable hands. Judging from his play thus far, Williamson hasn't yet morphed into that kind of dependable option. Rather, he seems to have made the most of a few low-pressure situations and the absence of two other receivers.

If Williamson can continue his unexpected hot streak into September, he'll be a big help for an offense that has lacked a true deep threat. In any case, he has likely earned a roster spot by flashing big potential yet again in the preseason.

At this point, though, expectations should be tempered for Williamson, who has disappointed before. He'll be under the microscope against corners Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown as the Jaguars face Philadelphia on Thursday night.

Should he break out against one of them, though, the "emerging star" talk could get serious.

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