Keiland Williams takes unusual path to Washington Redskins' backfield

Redskins running back Keiland Williams looks for yardage in the first quarter of Sunday's 19-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
Redskins running back Keiland Williams looks for yardage in the first quarter of Sunday's 19-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans. (Ricky Carioti/the Washington Post)
By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 25, 2010; 10:58 PM

On his Thanksgiving table Thursday afternoon, Keiland Williams loaded his plate with side dishes. Macaroni and cheese, green beans and stuffing, but no turkey. The Redskins running back is a "flexitarian" who eats some poultry and seafood, but no red meat.

"He's been like this since he was a teenager," said his mother, Clarissa Williams, who came to town to help with Thanksgiving. "I even told him, 'Try some of my ham. It's good.' He just said, 'Nuh-uh.' "

Not exactly a conventional diet in an NFL locker room, but then again, little about Williams and his path to the Redskins' backfield has been typical.

Ten games into the season, the Redskins' roster features a rag-tag group on both sides of the ball. A wide receiver who was working in a jewelry store not long ago. A newly signed safety who was playing flag football this fall. And a starting running back who wasn't even considered good enough to start for his college team.

"I definitely felt like I could play and contribute and help this team," Williams said. "But starting? To actually be starting with six games left in the season? No, I can't say that even I thought about that."

Williams will get his second start of the season this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said Thursday. It will be the third straight week Washington will rely on him as its featured back.

Williams started only three games in four years at LSU, but those who saw him play aren't necessarily surprised that he caught on with an NFL team.

"He's a tremendously talented guy," said Larry Porter, Williams's running backs coach at LSU and now the head coach at Memphis. "He has the speed of a sprinter and the hands of a wide receiver. He's just a natural running back."

An ankle injury prevented Williams from running at the NFL scouting combine and he went undrafted in April. In Washington, he entered training camp with four running backs ahead of him on the depth chart. Williams now finds himself as the only one of the group still standing. Larry Johnson and Willie Parker are out of football. Clinton Portis is on injured reserve. And Ryan Torain will miss a second straight game with a hamstring injury.

But even the Redskins weren't always certain how much Williams could contribute. He was released after the team's Week 3 loss to St. Louis but was added to the practice squad after clearing waivers and rejoined the 53-man roster a week later, on Oct. 9.

Williams has 195 yards on 49 carries in six games since then. He also has 162 receiving yards on 24 receptions this season. In a limited role thus far, he leads the team with five touchdowns.

Shanahan says he can see Williams's confidence growing with each passing game.

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