Demetrius Williams adeptly sold his pass pattern, jab-stepping inside before breaking toward the sideline to get open and haul in a spiral from Marc Bulger.
The Baltimore Ravens’ wide receiver made it appear effortless, moving with practiced ease as he executed route after route Monday morning at McDaniel College.
That sort of performance has practically become common place for Williams this month, and not a moment too soon.
He has arrived at a career crossroads in Baltimore as he heads into his fifth NFL season.
His job is on the line as he battles for one of the final roster spots at wide receiver, where he’s competing with rookie David Reed, special-teams contributor Marcus Smith and Justin Harper.
“At this point, I want to concentrate first on making the team,” Williams said. “Then, I want to figure out a way to get on the field and help the team. I just work as hard as possible and try to do everything I can to show the coaches what I can do. I can’t sit there and dwell on whether I’m going to make it. If I do that, I won’t play up to my abilities.”
Building a standard of consistency has been an elusive target for Williams.
The former fourth-round draft pick has always been lauded for his talent, size and speed.
However, injury problems and a failure to live up to his considerable ability have prevented him from fulfilling his potential.
He has produced only 63 receptions for 1,008 yards and four touchdowns in four NFL seasons, repeatedly drawing criticism for seemingly being too laidback or not tough or durable enough.
“That was the biggest thing is people weren’t sure what I would do as far as staying healthy,” Williams said. “Last year, I was healthy, but I have to build up that trust and show them that I’m going to stay healthy. That’s why I’m working hard to get better and prove what I can do.”
During this training camp, the Ravens are seeing a different approach from Williams.
The 6-foot-2 speedster bulked up to 202 pounds last year, and he has maintained that build through diligence in the weight room and dedication to his diet.
After missing a total of 19 games in 2007 and 2008 with an ankle injury that required surgery, Williams is finally healthy and meeting the coaches’ expectations.
“Very good, solid camp,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said when asked about Williams. “He’s just got to continue to be consistent. He’s always been a guy who flashes, and now he’s flashing pretty consistently.”
Williams dipped to a career-low eight catches for 142 yards and one touchdown last season as he was stuck behind Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington on the depth chart.
Now, the 27-year-old native of Concord, Calif., is trying to emerge from an even bigger crowd.
The Ravens acquired three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth this offseason, retained Mason and drafted Reed in the fifth round.
If Williams beats the odds and makes the team, it will represent a case of the Ravens choosing an experienced wide receiver over Smith’s kick coverage skills, Reed’s kick return upside and Harper’s imposing size.
Nicknamed “Spiderman,” Williams has adopted a much more serious attitude than the past.
“I’m different now,” he said. “I might not be as playful as usual. It’s time for me to do whatever is needed and make sure I stay focused on what needs to take place, and that’s football. It’s all business at this point.”
When Williams failed to haul in a key fourth-down pass in an AFC divisional playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts last winter, it sparked rumors about whether he would be brought back for this season.
Ultimately, the Ravens decided to assign Williams a $1.101 million restricted low tender.
None of that money is guaranteed, though.
Now, he’s heading into a contract year with virtually no job security.
“I’m trying to stay out of the loop as far as talking about the contracts,” Williams said. “I just take it as this is where I’m supposed to be. The biggest thing for me is making the team and continuing to work hard.