Passing of the torch in the Packers’ secondary « Ol' Bag of Donuts

Passing of the torch in the Packers' secondary

(Disclaimer: The Associated Press released a similar story earlier today, but this was written earlier this week before the AP story was published)

Last season Charles Woodson posted one of the best defensive seasons in Packers history and rightfully took home the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. The Packers rewarded him with a new contract that all but guarantees he will end his career in green and gold. So at the beginning of the season if someone said that seven weeks into the 2010 campaign, Woodson shouldn’t be considered the team’s best defensive back it would be looked upon as nonsense. Even then, the assumption might have been that Pro-Bowler Nick Collins has taken such title from Woodson.

Collins is having a fine season, so this is not a knock on him. And more importantly this is not a slight against Woodson either. The team’s most valuable player in the secondary right now, and perhaps on the entire team outside of Clay Matthews, is Tramon Williams.

Yes, the same Tramon Williams who went undrafted in 2006 out of Louisiana Tech and didn’t see the field until 2007.  Yes, the same Tramon Williams who didn’t get a chance to start full-time until Al Harris went down with a knee injury last season. Yes, that same Tramon Williams who displayed humility and professionalism by showing up on time for training camp this summer after he signed his restricted free agent tender. And yes, the same Tramon Williams who instead of making a big scene about being underpaid, has quietly gone out and made it impossible for the Packers not pay him this offseason by his actions on the field.

I’ll be the first to say that I did not see this coming. Most of us probably shared the same confidence that Williams would do just fine as the team’s number two cornerback this season with Woodson on the other side. However, no one could have imagined that he would become the team’s shutdown corner in such short time.

Case in point on Sunday night. Lambeau terror Randy Moss only turned out three catches for thirty yards with Williams, not Woodson, flanking him the whole night. Granted Moss had a touchdown, but if Woodson didn’t fall, Moss probably wouldn’t have scored.

Williams’ road to get here wasn’t easy. He initially signed with Houston as an undrafted free agent in ‘06 and was cut before the season started. It wasn’t until late that season the Packers signed him to the practice squad for the remainder of the year.  Next season Williams started his humble journey from special teams to dime to nickel and eventually the starting role he has now. For guys like Sam Shields take notes because this is how it can be done.

“Big Play Tra” (I’m openly campaigning for this new nickname) is making just over $3 million this year. There have already been rumblings about an extension, as well as there should be.  Don’t expect Williams to make a fuss either, as that doesn’t seem to be part of his DNA.  He may not have the name recognition around the NFL yet, but he will in short time. As much as Thompson can be maddening at times with contracts, he will take care of this one.

Talk to any GM and they say when building a team you need four things: a franchise quarterback, a left tackle, an elite pass rusher and a shutdown corner.  Well, the Packers definitely have the quarterback and pass rusher and they drafted Bulaga to be the franchise tackle for the next decade. Woodson doesn’t have many years left, but it looks like new shutdown corner is already on the roster.

While the particulars are not the same, there can be parallels drawn between passing down the torch from Favre to Rodgers and now Woodson to Williams. Both followed legends that had outstanding careers in a Packers uniform. Obviously, the biggest difference is that Woodson is not a self-absorbed prima donna, and will be around to help Williams grow while also helping the Packers contend until he hangs it up. If anything Williams will prolong Woodson’s career, as #38 will be lined up over the team’s top wideout from now on.

I am not uncovering any new ground talking about Williams, but rather giving due recognition to a player who has gone from the unknown to one of the game’s best, without much fanfare along the way. It has already started, but let’s have the Big Play Tra era officially begin in Green Bay, as the Packers have something special building in the defensive backfield for years to come. Not bad for an undrafted free agent from the practice squad.

-Adam Somers

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