Trent Williams, Fred Davis try to get back on righteous path

Jason Reid
Columnist July 28, 2012

Tight end Fred Davis and left tackle Trent Williams said the right things during the first few days of Washington Redskins training camp. But after their career-threatening blunders last season, it has to be more than just lip service for Davis and Williams.

The team’s most talented veterans on offense were suspended without pay for the final four games after failing multiple drug tests. With one more slipup, each faces a season-long vacation.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

Davis and Williams claim they’ve stopped the off-field behavior that relegated them to the sideline as the Redskins lost three of their final four to close another disappointing year. They both reported to camp in good shape and are clearly working hard.

The Redskins have bought in, players said Saturday after practice at Redskins Park. They quickly re-embraced Davis and Williams, and “nobody’s out here following them and checking up on them,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “We believe them.”

It all sounds great. Showing is always better than telling, however, especially if you’re facing your livelihood potentially going up in smoke. Davis and Williams are just beginning a long climb to regain credibility outside of the team’s training complex.

“That’s the way it is,” Davis said of the doubters. “You just got to prove [it has changed] when you . . . make good decisions.”

Anyone can make a mistake, and with access to pretty much anything they desire, young millionaire athletes (Davis is 26 and Williams is 24) are uniquely positioned to make colossal ones.

After they failed drug tests following last summer’s lockout, it’s hard to understand why Davis and Williams failed to make changes when they knew they would continue to be tested. That a second failure wasn’t enough to inspire a change is completely inexplicable.

“We made our mistakes,” Williams said. “That’s in the past.”

In order to keep it there, the initial encouraging steps Davis and Williams have taken must develop into impressive strides.

Williams, Coach Mike Shanahan’s first draft pick with the Redskins, was labeled as gifted but lazy during his college days at Oklahoma. During his first two seasons, Williams displayed flashes of the ability that prompted Shanahan to make him the cornerstone of rebuilding the team’s offensive line. But a longtime NFC East defensive assistant who has studied tape of Williams said he was “very inconsistent” last season.

Williams has hired a nutritionist and a personal trainer, a person close to him said recently, and for the first time he truly committed to a rigorous offseason program that also included about as much film study as a full-time movie reviewer.

“I just now feel like if this is the only thing I’m gonna do, I might as well do it to the best of my ability,” Williams said.

Williams and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III have already become close (they’re often together during downtime after practice), and as he tries to restart his career, Williams feels a sense of responsibility to help Griffin.

“I never fathomed not being able to play due to a mistake that I made,” he said. “I ain’t gonna say it gave me a newfound respect [for doing his job], but it put things in perspective: It’s here today, and it could be gone tomorrow.”

It shouldn’t have taken a suspension to get Davis turned around. He has missed wake-up calls from the moment he entered the NFL — literally. On the final day of minicamp in 2008, Davis, then a rookie, overslept and had to be located by team security personnel. When a second-round pick starts off like that, it sets off alarms.

The Redskins were aware of Davis’s flighty reputation while he was starring for the University of Southern California. The people in charge of Washington’s football operations back then (most of whom are gone) figured they could change him. But Davis was prone to giggling in meetings, which frustrated coaches, and struggled to learn the Redskins’ playbook.

He often dazzled in practice, displaying more big-play ability than incumbent starter Chris Cooley, many players told me. Davis was productive in 2009 (when Cooley missed all but seven games because of injury) and great for 12 games last season, when he emerged as the No. 1 target in the passing game.

If not for the suspension, the Redskins might have offered Davis a long-term, wallet-stuffing payday. Instead, they designated Davis as their franchise player, giving him a one-year contract of $5.5 million. Not bad, obviously, but that’s undoubtedly millions less than Davis would have received in a signing bonus.

In another bit of questionable decision-making, Davis has at times represented himself in a bizarre lawsuit that has become a source of amusement in the locker room. Players delight in reading aloud Davis’s comments in his defense, and “when they read it back to me, all the stuff that was said, it is kinda funny,” Davis acknowledges. After reflecting for a moment, Davis added, “Freddy the attorney at law.”

The Redskins need Davis to do his best work downfield, not in the courtroom. They signed free agent wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan to give Griffin more targets, but having a sure-handed tight end in the mid-range passing game is like a security blanket for an inexperienced quarterback.

Davis has stumbled so many times, though, it’s fair to ask: Will he finally remain upright? Sage inside linebacker London Fletcher, who has counseled Davis and Williams, believes so.

“I’m not making any guarantees, but I’ve think they’ve both grown up a lot,” said Fletcher, beginning his 15th season. “Some guys, for whatever reason, it takes them a little while to mature. I think they have now. And I think they’re going to do it the right way, not only for their teammates but for themselves.”

For the Redskins and their fans, that would definitely be something worth seeing.

For previous Jason Reid columns, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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