CHICAGO - Will the real Derrick Williams please stand up - or has he already? That answer comes this season, the final one for the once-ballyhooed Penn State wide receiver. Until then, we'll just have to take the senior at his word.
"The real Derrick Williams will be there this year," Williams said yesterday at the Big Ten preseason news conference. Many feel the 6-foot, 194-pound receiver has yet to deliver on high expectations. As the No. 1 overall recruit in many estimations, Williams picked the Nittany Lions in 2005 when few other blue-chippers would. He was the type of explosive athlete Penn State lacked.
And through the first seven games of his freshman year, it appeared as if the Lions got the player as advertised. Williams lined up everywhere on offense and scored four touchdowns before breaking his arm against Michigan.
The Williams that returned the following season, however, looked a little out of shape and a step slower. "Some people say that I lost speed my sophomore year," Williams said. "But every year since I got here, I've gotten faster."
His junior year was better, but it took until the fifth game for Williams to score his first receiving touchdown, and it wasn't until the second half of the season that he really gained his footing. In back-to-back games against Purdue and Temple, he had 10 catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, and then seven receptions for 107 yards - his first time over the century mark.
"He turned it around some last year, and he had a heck of a spring," coach Joe Paterno said. "He was trying too hard for a while, trying to make big plays all the time."
Some of that, Williams and Paterno conceded, was setting the bar too high. Some was adjusting to a new quarterback in Anthony Morelli after Michael Robinson left. And some had to do with learning a position he hadn't played until college.
"I'm way past the learning point at wide receiver," Williams said. "I got that down."
When asked, Williams wasn't staking a horse in the quarterback battle between Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin. But he ruled out the possibility that the Nittany Lions would use a two-quarterback system.
"I think they're going to go with whoever is the best," Williams said. "I think they're going to make the decision and stick with one quarterback."
Defensive end Josh Gaines, however, didn't mind sticking his neck out and selecting a winner in the quarterback sweepstakes. His choice? "Abe Koroma," Gaines said in jest, naming a sophomore defensive tackle.