By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 9, 2010; D01
Trent Williams won't likely forget his first snap wearing a Redskins helmet. The rookie left tackle learned right away that the NFL has a rhythm and pace noticeably different from what he knew in college football.
On Friday morning, shortly after the team opened its second minicamp of the offseason, center Casey Rabach snapped the ball, and suddenly Williams was swallowed by a whirlwind of commotion.
"Everybody was gone," Williams said with a chuckle. "I was still in my stance."
Williams, his coaches and his teammates all report that by Day Two of the minicamp, Williams had already made noticeable strides. "I thought he looked great," said quarterback Donovan McNabb, offering the promising assessment that the Redskins had hoped to hear.
The team made Williams the fourth overall pick in last month's draft, immediately making the athletic tackle a cornerstone of Mike Shanahan's revamped offense. The team gave him a playbook to study in the days following April 22, but this weekend marked the first time coaches had an opportunity to see him and the other rookies together on the field.
The Redskins' second minicamp, which concludes Sunday, is mandatory for rookies. Though it's voluntary for veterans, the Redskins still had near-perfect attendance. Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was the weekend's only no-show.
The Redskins drafted six players last month, signed four more as undrafted free agents and invited more than 20 others to camp for tryouts. That group of nearly three dozen rookies had to report Friday and Saturday to Redskins Park by 6 o'clock for an early-morning practice. They reconvened later each day for a full practice session with the rest of the team.
"Everybody told me that the game was faster," Williams said. "But I'm thinking how when I came from high school, college ball was faster. But it wasn't that fast. When I got here, I thought I may adjust to it a little quicker than I did coming out of high school, but that really wasn't the story."
The Redskins made the calculated decision to line up Williams at left tackle with the first-team unit, rather than start him with the second-string group or even at right tackle. Coaches spent a lot of time discussing the merits of easing him into the starting left tackle spot, which has been vacated by Chris Samuels's retirement.
"The very strong majority thought, 'Let's throw him in there,' " offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "We know it's a matter of time, so why wait? Let's put it all on him. He's a confident enough guy to handle it."
Coaches came to their decision, and Mike Shanahan called Williams a week before camp opened and told him they intended to put him with the starters right away. Williams has been studying his playbook, but because of the learning curve, coaches weren't overly concerned during this minicamp when he's been slow off the snap, missed a count or botched an assignment. For now, he'll be judged by growth, not instant results.
"We decided to put him right in the fire right away, see how he'd adjust," Mike Shanahan said. "He's done a pretty good job. It's two days, though. It's a little quick. But it's a long process. . . . We've got some time."
Coaches knew that Friday's full-team practice would be an eye-opening introduction for the team's rookies to the speed and pace of the NFL.
"Every play, everything happens just so much faster. Every level of football -- when you go from high school to college, college to pro, everybody's faster," offensive line coach Chris Foerster said. "Everything happens just so quickly. So if you don't know exactly how things are -- things in college where you can kind of feel your way into things, you can't do in pro football."
But the adjustment isn't simply the size and speed of the other players around him. Williams isn't that far removed from being a college kid with a lunch plan. He now finds himself in a huddle alongside players he's watched and admired from afar.
"I kind of found myself in a trance sometimes, like, 'Dang, that's Donovan McNabb,' " Williams said. "Make me miss a play or miss a snap count or something."
Just as coaches were careful not to put too much weight on Friday's Day One struggles, they also know that Saturday's improvements still don't put Williams even in the neighborhood of his potential. The key will be giving Williams repetitions, trying to make his movements and reactions instinctual.
"It's early; not enough time to give you a great evaluation," Kyle Shanahan said. "But you don't have to look long to realize how talented of a player we have. He's extremely talented. We're just throwing him in the fire right now, throwing a lot at him, seeing what sticks. We're throwing a lot at him, so he's gradually slowing down because he's thinking and not reacting."
Williams said he reported to training camp weighing 310 pounds, about five pounds lighter than what he was listed at before the draft. He'd like to add a couple of more pounds and noted that this weekend marked the first football activities he'd done since the Oklahoma Sooners' season ended in December. He felt rusty on the field, he said, and sore off of it.
With Williams working with the starters, Stephon Heyer moved from the first group to the second string. The rest of the starting linemen were the same as the team's first minicamp last month: Derrick Dockery at left guard, Rabach at center, Mike Williams at right guard and Artis Hicks at right tackle. It's just one change, but it's a big one.
"He's a big guy with great feet and that was kind of the rep coming out of college -- very athletic kid, great size, excellent run and pass blocker," McNabb said. "So we're definitely seeing it out here, and he's only going to get better. We're all going to get better together and he'll be able to gain more and more confidence as we continue on."