All Trent Williams must do in order to be one of the best left tackles in the NFL is want to. Scouts and personnel people league-wide will tell you that Williams has as much sheer athleticism as anyone playing the position, maybe anyone ever. His raw ability made him the No. 4 overall pick in the 2010 draft and gave Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan reason to believe he was the perfect fit for the ever-in-motion offense he wants to run. The only issues with Williams, all along, have been focus and motivation, and when he had to miss the final four games of 2011 on a drug suspension, those were once again called into question.
But Williams says that was a wake-up call for him, and that he's determined to learn from it and be a better player and teammate. As John Keim writes here, the way Williams played in spite of obvious pain from his knee injury Sunday reveals a changed man:
"A couple years ago I may have wanted to shut it down," he said, "and not play through that type of pain. It was a lot of discomfort."
There's a reason he played every snap despite a bone bruise in his right knee, which caused him to limp around Redskins Park most of last week. And it has to do with his four-game drug-related suspension at the end of last season.
"Yeah, that’s the driving force behind a lot of things I do now," Williams said. "I made a mistake and I use it as a learning experience. I alienated my team for four games. I was a captain at the time so it made me feel even worse. This year I'm trying to prove to them that I've grown up a lot and that’s not me anymore."
Williams is a pleasant young man who's never been accused of being an attitude case or a poor teammate. His issue has been focus, and his ability and/or willingness to take the game seriously enough. If it's true that last year's suspension has prompted a new intensity, the sky then becomes the limit for how good he can become. And you kind of see it already. The biggest improvement in the Washington offense over last year is at quarterback, where Robert Griffin III has transformed a liability into a strength. But you can't have the third-highest-scoring team in the league if your left tackle is an unmotivated underachiever. If Williams can no longer be accused of being that, then a foundation of something very special is indeed beginning to take shape on offense in Washington.