As Saturday’s preseason opener was unfolding and wide receiver Fred Williams made plays and hung up numbers, Chiefs assistant head coach David Culley was nodding. Williams had done his job.
“He was in a position to get some opportunities and made the most of them,” said Culley, who also oversees the wide receivers. “Not everybody does that.”
Which makes roster decisions easier. But this one looms as a toughie for the Chiefs. Williams has been superb in camp. So has Frankie Hammond and Da’Ron Brown. Each caught a touchdown pass from Chase Daniel against the Arizona Cardinals.
This from an offense that didn’t produce a scoring pass to a wide receiver last season.
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If five wide receivers are leaders for roster spots — Jeremy Maclin, Albert Wilson, De’Anthony Thomas, Jason Avant and Chris Conley — the three who reached the end zone Saturday appear to be battling for one or two spots.
None of the candidates has taken a more unconventional path to the NFL than Williams.
He was two-star prospect out of South High in Waukesha, Wis. That got him to St. Cloud State, a Division II program in Minnesota, where Williams set school records for career receptions and receiving yards.
Undrafted, Williams attended an Arena League tryout camp and, after an impressive workout, signed with the San Jose SaberCats. In two indoor seasons, he caught 137 passes and scored 32 touchdowns. His agent worked the phones, and the Chiefs answered. Williams spent last season on the practice squad and now yearns to be one of 53.
“Coming from a small school you have to work 10 times harder,” Williams said. “You have work really, really hard to show people you belong at this level.”
As the reserves battled each other, Williams proved he belonged against the Cardinals. He finished with six receptions for 82 yards — five produced first downs or a touchdown — both team highs in the 34-19 victory.
All of the production occurred in the second quarter, including Williams’ scoring reception over the middle from 13 yards.
“My first NFL touchdown,” Williams said. “A dream come true. The first person I called was my mom in Milwaukee.”
Rather, called her back.
“She left me about one thousand messages,” Williams said.
The game continued what has been a solid camp for the 27-year-old Williams. Andy Reid calls him an “energy-giver” to the field and in the locker room, and “the more he plays in this offense the better he gets.”
The productive camp and effort on Saturday was a year in the making.
“You see guys like Fred and Chase, taking what they’ve been taught, translating it to the field, that’s what you want to see in these games,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said.
Williams took advantage of Conley’s absence. Some of Williams’ reps would have gone to the third-round draft selection from Georgia.
Conley will return this week, and typically the first team plays longer in the second preseason game. All Williams and the other candidates can do is cash in when they step on the field.
Then keep fingers crossed when the roster gets trimmed. Williams has a shot.
“He’s really improved from last year,” Culley said. “He’s familiar with what we’re doing, has good hands, runs well.”
As for his or any of the other candidates making the squad, more opportunities await.
“It always works itself out,” Culley said. “Injuries happen, other things happen. When we get down to that point, it kind of sets itself, so we let it play out. That’s the beauty of four preseason games. By the end of the last one we’ll know. And they’ll all have had the opportunity to let us know.”