GREEN BAY – On the surface, experience figured to be Tramon Williams’ greatest value to a young, unproven group of Green Bay Packers cornerbacks. He has played much more football than anyone else. Next closest is Davon House, drafted in 2011.
By 2011, Williams was already nearing 30 years old.
Now 35, Williams has yet to play a game in his second stint with the Packers after a three-year hiatus in Cleveland and Arizona, but he’s already the undisputed leader. Experience, yes, demands respect at a position where Kevin King, Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson and a plethora of young corners are learning how to play in the NFL. But in the Packers' first practice of training camp, Williams showed another asset that could be just as valuable.
In the first set of team drills Thursday, Williams lined up in the slot. Throughout practice, he appeared to take more slot reps than perimeter. He has played more on the perimeter throughout his career, especially in the later stages. He figures to be a Week 1 starter as a perimeter corner, but Williams said his role may be more versatile than expected.
“I can do everything, man,” Williams said. “Over the years, last few years, I’ve played it all. Even played safety. So whatever they need me to do, I can do it. Obviously, I will be on the outside a lot. Quite a bit. But I’m pretty sure there’s going to be times where I have to play the inside, and I’m going to be capable of doing that.
“That comes with experience. I mean, that’s one of the things that you don’t just get a young guy to do. So I’m going to be a guy with that type of versatility, and that type of experience where I can move around and not make many mistakes doing it.”
If Williams can offer versatility, it allows the Packers to be flexible and patient in their secondary.
At the onset of camp, it’s unclear how quickly rookies Alexander and Jackson will develop. Each will learn the NFL game at their own pace, meaning one could be ready for snaps before the other. It’s uncertain how the Packers plan to use their two rookies, but Alexander’s speed and lack of height profile more to the slot, while Jackson’s length and lack of speed profiles more to the perimeter.
Williams’ versatility could allow the Packers to cover both spots with a proven veteran.
No depth chart is complete on the first day of camp, but second-year cornerback Kevin King is on track to be a starter on one perimeter. Williams is expected to take another spot. If he’s capable of being counted in the slot or on the perimeter, it gives the Packers options.
“The biggest difference on the back end,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said earlier this offseason, “is 38 (Williams). When he showed back up here, he is as of right now, in my humble opinion, the best on that side of the ball.”
Williams’ ideal place might be on the perimeter. In Arizona last season, Williams said he played little in the slot. He estimated 60 percent of his snaps came on the perimeter during two seasons with the Browns, where he played for now-Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
The Packers have more experience on the perimeter. With Williams in the slot Thursday, House got first-team reps across King. Eventually, the Packers will need their top two draft picks to contribute.
Williams’ versatility could ensure they’re covered should one rookie need more time than another.
“With young guys,” Williams said, “you don’t know how much they can take in. So you do want to have a guy who you know, knows all the positions and is not going to make a lot of mistakes doing it. I feel like I can do that, plus do it at a high level."