The Washington Redskins have failed to score a return touchdown since Week 8 of the 2010 season.
Newly-promoted wide receiver/returner
Undrafted out of the University of Connecticut, Williams returned 79 kickoffs and 52 punts during his standout four-year collegiate career.
In 2010, he returned 17 kicks for a healthy average of 35.3 yards.
He’s hoping he can translate that success to the NFL level with the same quick-strike attitude that could both carve out his spot on the team and remedy a struggling unit.
“My mentality has always been return until you can’t and that’s the way I go back there,” Williams acknowledged on Wednesday. “I have a score mentality and that’s how I’ve always felt about being back there as a returner; always be aggressive but not to a fault.”
Williams, who spent the first 10 weeks of the season in the practice squad, said that it will take a collective effort from all 11 guys, regardless of who is deep.
“Sometimes when the return game is going really well, it looks like it’s all the returner and it’s really the 10 guys in front of him,” Williams admitted with a team-first mentality. “And sometimes when it’s not going so well it looks like the returner is making mistakes.
“It’s really a group effort and it’s kind of like playing quarterback as being the returner. The guy gets either the blame of the credit but it’s really 11 guys out there.”
Williams’ only special teams experience in the NFL came on a 29-yard punt return in the final preseason game. Despite limited game experience, the rookie has been preparing himself for the moment his number gets called.
“I know it’s going to be a little more jacked up [than] in practice,” Williams said of the speed of the NFL. “But going through preseason, going through training camp and practicing against the starting defense for the last eight or nine weeks, I’ve adjusted so far to the speed of the game and things of that nature.
“There’s no way to simulate the game, so that’s an aspect I’ll look forward to dealing with successfully during the game.”
Standing out amongst his peers during training camp, Williams also pointed to his self-confidence as a factor in his readiness.
“I think confidence is demonstrated ability,” Williams said. “So each time that you make a play or each time you do something successfully you build on that. I barely returned in the preseason, but just having a taste of it is a confidence builder, for sure.”
The Redskins’ last punt return for touchdown came in 2008 when veteran wide receiver
Moss, the longest tenured member of the Redskins, is someone Williams has continually gone to for advice.
The wily veteran has been more than willing to rub his extensive knowledge of the game off on him in return.
“Santana has been great to me with helping me ever since I got here,” Williams said. “From rookie minicamp to OTAs he’s opened the door for me and showed me my weaknesses and my strengths and he’s taken me under his wing with things off the field as well.
“He’s an open book. I ask him questions all the time and me and him are always talking about things and he’s been great. One of the reasons why I came here was because of Santana [and] have an opportunity to learn from a guy like that.”
As the New York Jets’ primary returner from 2002-2004 and occasionally going deep for the Redskins during his nine seasons with the franchise, Moss said he’s been impressed by the undrafted rookie’s transition.
“He’s one of the guys that, from day one, I said he’s going to play because I knew he was going to make the team from OTAs,” Moss admitted. “He was the only receiver we had here that knew everything. I was like, ‘How do you know everything so quick?’
“That just goes to show you that he takes pride into learning what he has to learn so he can be ready. He was the guy that I ranted and raved to the special teams coach about putting him in at punt return when everybody went down.
“I’m hoping that he does get the opportunity to go out there and really wow the audience with his punt return skills because I’m pretty sure if he’s back there enough, he’ll eventually get one. He’ll take one to the house because he has that ability.”
Head coach Mike Shanahan agreed.
“Nick has done a good job since he’s been here,” Shanahan said. “He’s a hard worker. I think we all know he could return punts, kickoffs, slot receiver – I think he could play X or Z.”
Whether it’s in the return game, or adding another dimension to the offense, Williams said he doesn’t care which aspect of the game he’s put in.
He just wants to help the Redskins win.
“I don’t really have a preference. However I can get it doesn’t really matter to me.”