Kasen Williams was wide open and the ball was headed his direction. It was a pass like so many others he has caught in his life as a receiver, but this time, for a split second, the Seahawks rookie lost his concentrate—"got lazy," in his words—and he dropped the ball.
It was one of two drops for Williams in what he called his worst practice of camp, but despite those two drops Tuesday, the former University of Washington standout had a couple more spectacular catches as well. And the more Williams makes those big plays, the more it looks like the undrafted rookie has a real shot of sticking around this season.
After practice, Williams went through his usual routine of catching extra passes from the Jugs machine, all the while reminding himself that he can't afford even a single lazy play.
Of course Williams doesn't need a dropped pass in his first NFL training camp to stay hungry. Other than perhaps an occasional very brief lapse, he plays the game with motivation that he can now admit he lost at times during his career at Washington before a devastating injury changed everything.
Williams was a football and track and field star at Skyline High School and earned Parade Magazine's national player of the year honors as a senior. He had his pick of colleges, and by the end of his sophomore season with the Huskies, in which he had 77 catches for 878 yards, a long NFL career seemed like a foregone conclusion. But then Williams broke his leg and suffered a Lisfranc injury as a junior, an injury that ended that season and slowed him down in 2014.
"Before I had that injury, I was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, they said I was going to first or second round in the draft, and the injury just wiped all that out," Williams said. "I had to rebuild all of my foundation and I had to become hungry again and realize that I really love this game. You get tested when you get hurt—whether you love this game, is it really what you want to do, is it all worth it? The answer to all of those questions was yes, which is why I'm still here."
"At a young age, you like being talked about, of course, it boosts your ego a little bit. I was starting to coast. That's what happened today, I had two dropped balls because I got lazy, and I dropped 'em. It's just staying hungry every day, realizing I haven't accomplished anything yet. A few good days of practice? That doesn't mean anything. It has to come in the preseason games, it has to come my first year, wherever I'm at."
An unproductive senior year and lingering injury concerns meant Williams wasn't the early-round pick he assumed he would be back in 2012, but rather an undrafted free agent. He thought he was headed to Cincinnati after the draft, but the Bengals changed their minds when they realized Williams still has a pin in his surgically repaired foot. Instead Williams returned home, first as a tryout player in Seattle's rookie minicamp, and now as a member of the 90-man roster who is trying to win a job at one of the most competitive positions on the team.
"I believe everything happen for a reason, and everything didn't work out in Cincy because I was meant to be here," Williams said.
Properly motivated and finally healthy—Williams said he started feeling 100 percent by the end of his senior season—Williams believes he can still be the receiver who was once considered the best high school player in the country; the player who two years into his college career looked like a lock to play in the NFL.
Williams would have to beat out some quality players to make Seattle's roster, but he can also find motivation in the fact that the Seahawks will give him a real shot to do so. Seattle's two starters, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, were undrafted out of college. So were Ricardo Lockette, Chris Matthews and Bryan Walters, all of whom contributed to a Super Bowl run last season. Williams will get his chances, and a couple of uncharacteristic drops notwithstanding, he has turned heads in his first NFL camp.
"He's battling out here, he's a real tough, aggressive, physical type of receiver, which we love his style, so we'll just let it keep going," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "You certainly can go to him, you can throw the ball to him and he's going to make plays, you can see that. It's just like the guy he was when we saw him coming out as a senior in high school."