CFL star joins Saints practice squad

METAIRIE, La. -- Canadian Football League defector Chris Williams made his debut with the New Orleans Saints' practice squad Friday. The dynamic receiver/kick returner, who set a CFL record with six kick returns for touchdowns last year, was granted his release from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats this week after a long legal battle.

Williams said he doesn't know if or when the Saints plan to promote him to the active roster. But he knows it's up to him to prove his worth after being away from football all season during the contract standoff.

"I want to be able to help as soon as I can. I'm going to work my butt off and learn what I can as fast as I can and see when I can get up to speed," Williams said. "It's up to me. I'm the one that has to put the work in and get to a point where they can trust me on the field."

Saints coach Sean Payton didn't comment on the roster move Friday because it hadn't yet been made official. It seems like the Saints are most interested in Williams' return abilities, since Williams said special teams coordinator Greg McMahon was the one who sold him on choosing New Orleans over other NFL suitors.

"I got to talk to Coach Payton and Coach Mac, and they really made an influence on me," Williams said. "Coach Mac, I [hadn't] even met him yet and he's already had an influence on me."

It's way too early to predict whether Williams can be an impact player for the Saints this year -- or if the team is just taking a flier on a dynamic talent who might not even see the field in 2013.

His success in the CFL is hard to ignore, though. The 5-foot-8, 175-pounder (who fits right in with fellow undersized overachievers like Drew Brees, Darren Sproles and Lance Moore) caught 83 passes for 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns last year and returned 78 punts for 1,117 yards and five touchdowns. He also returned a missed field goal for a touchdown.

In 2011, Williams was named the CFL's top rookie with 70 catches for 1,064 receiving yards and six touchdowns, plus another 333 return yards.

"He's a return specialist who could be a Lance Moore-type slot [receiver]. He's very quick, fluid and just goes on returns," said Calgary Stampeders assistant general manager John Murphy, a longtime pro and college scout who's based in Metairie. "Think [former Saints Pro Bowl kick returner] Michael Lewis with more experience as a route runner at the same stage of his career."

Williams got looks from NFL teams when he first came out of New Mexico State in 2009, but he didn't stick. He spent that summer with the Miami Dolphins before being released. Then he got picked up by the Cleveland Browns and spent time on their practice squad.

Williams, 25, said he felt ready to give the NFL another shot, which is why he fought so hard for the opportunity (Williams fought to be released from his contract since it was originally negotiated by an unlicensed agent).

"I had two pretty good seasons, and I definitely felt like I matured as a player, for sure," said Williams, who's had a whirlwind week after getting married Tuesday.