FOXBORO, Mass. — It’s an uphill climb for a veteran player to try to come to New England and learn the Patriots’ entire playbook during training camp. D.J. Williams is trying to accomplish such a feat more than midway through the season.
Williams signed last Wednesday and was active his first Sunday with the team. That’s an accomplishment in itself. Of course, it helps that Williams’ former college quarterback at Arkansas, Ryan Mallett, can help put the Patriots’ concepts in language he can understand.
“It’s a huge benefit that he’s here,” Williams said. “Close friend of mine and a lot of concepts that I may struggle with, he’ll put them in Arkansas terms for me. So, I can translate the language from English to Chinese, Chinese to English or all that good stuff. It’s very nice to have him in here.”
Williams won the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s best tight end, in 2010 with Mallett throwing him the ball. The chemistry between the two still exists.
“Oh yeah, it’s real good,” Williams said. “Especially while we’re out at practice. He still calls me 45, my college number. I still respond to it. So, it’s pretty cool playing on the same team as him again.
Williams played four offensive snaps in his first game with the Patriots. He was in as a run blocker twice and he ran two routes. He was not targeted.
“Felt good,” Williams said about his first in-game reps with the team. “It’s my third year and I’m comfortable playing in the system. I’m still learning more every day but the coaches have done a great job getting me prepared.”
On Friday, Bill Belichick seemed unsure of whether Williams would be able to play on Sunday. He went through the process of determining if a player is ready.
“Bringing in a new player, you give him some stuff and by the end of the week, you just see how much it’s piled up,” Belichick said. “Even if there’s any consideration to make him active for the game but then whether or not he can handle the volume of first and second down, third down, red area, goal line, special teams. There are a lot of things that by the end of the week, you end up getting piled on to a player’s plate. Whether there’s part of that, all of it, none of it, we’ll just have to see how it comes together here at the end of the week, as to whether or not he’d be able to contribute anything this week.”
So, it’s a good sign that Williams was able to suit up against the Texans.
It would be difficult for Williams to take in everything during his short time in New England, but that’s not how the Arkansas product is approaching his time with the Patriots.
“That’s just not the type of player I am,” Williams said. “I’ve always been that smart dude. I’m trying my best to really over prepare. The thing about it, everyone in this locker room does the same thing. And I think that’s why this team has had success in the past and success this year. Because everyone prepares before the game.”
Listed at 245 pounds but appearing much slimmer, Williams is more of an H-back or “flex” tight end than an inline player like Rob Gronkowski or Matthew Mulligan. The Patriots haven’t really had a player like Williams since, well, that guy they had last year whose name is not mentioned inside the walls of Gillette Stadium.
Williams has bounced around the league and has just nine catches for 70 yards in his three-year career, but with Mallett helping him out in a tight end-friendly system, Williams may have found a home.