You would think, naturally, that the highlight of Antonio Williams’ preseason opener was his touchdown run — the first time he reached the end zone in a Giants uniform.
And you would think wrong.
“The best play he probably had was on the kickoff in the second half,” coach Brian Daboll said Sunday. “He went down there and tackled a guy for not much of a gain. He was excited about that.
“He’s a guy that’s constantly working to try and stick on the roster, stick around. His mindset is good, he’s smart.”
And that means what happens on special teams is just as important as what happens when Williams touches the ball as a running back.
A Bills castoff who worked with both Daboll and Joe Schoen in Buffalo before becoming the latter’s first signing in New York, Williams casts an easygoing demeanor. He’s relaxed, but knows where he’s going.
Williams also trained with Daniel Jones for the last few offseasons — the two both living in the Charlotte area, coming from opposite sides of the Duke-UNC rivalry. So it might be easy, with some familiarity with three of the organization’s most important members, for Williams to let off the gas a bit.
Such an act, though, would change his trajectory in the wrong direction.
“Any advantage you have you gotta use it, but at the same time, we came in and it was a clean slate,” Williams said following Sunday’s practice. “Nobody started with a lead over anybody. It was simply, do your job the way you can do it and we’ll evaluate from there. That was straightforward from the coaching staff.”
Yes, there’s a degree of validation that Daboll and Schoen liked him enough in Buffalo to bring him to East Rutherford. But there’s also motivation.
“A guy like myself, I haven’t done much in the NFL yet, but to know what I had done in the practices with them seeing me every day was enough to get an opportunity, that does make you feel good,” said Williams, who was active for one game — last year’s regular-season finale — in two seasons with the Bills. “It gives a sense of motivation to try and prove those guys right about yourself. So for me right now, I have a huge amount of respect for Dabes, a huge amount of respect for Joe, so I just want to make their decision to bring me here look like a good choice.”
Williams is scrapping away to try to work his way up the depth chart at running back and on special teams. He and Gary Brightwell are the two leading contenders for the third spot in the backfield, behind Saquon Barkley and Matt Breida, with Williams rushing for 61 yards and a touchdown in New England last week.
And, of course, the play on special teams.
That adds up to an encouraging foundation, but there can never be enough bricks laid down for someone in Williams’ position — a former undrafted free agent trying to make a career of it.
“My goal has always been to go into a system — it was Buffalo at the time — and be the best running back I can be,” Williams said. “And in my mind, I think the best version of Antonio Williams is good enough to be able to play.”
What does the best version of Antonio Williams look like?
“Just performing. Being consistent. Consistently doing what I was able to go and do this past weekend against the Patriots.”
So, he is 1-for-1. But the next few weeks will still be of massive importance. He wants to prove himself, and that does not happen in a day.
“That was what I kept striving for,” he said. “And did I get that? I don’t know. But this coming year, I think it will continue to keep me on the trajectory I want for myself as far as being able to play in this league. For sure.”
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