Fighting for a starting job, Williams could complete rags-to-riches tale

It certainly sets up as quite the Cinderella story.

From Division II college player to seventh-round draft pick to starting cornerback on one of the NFL's top defenses.

The last line of that script hasn't been written just yet, but if Cary Williams keeps playing like he has so far this training camp, the previously little-known corner might be lining up with the Ravens' first-team defense against Steelers receivers Hines Ward and Mike Wallace come Week 1 of the regular season.

If you look back at Williams' career bio, you'll see that the fourth-year cornerback actually does have one start under his belt. That came late in the 2009 season, his first with the Ravens.

But throughout much of his tenure in Baltimore - and his career overall, for that matter - Williams has been viewed strictly as a special teams player. The 26-year-old possesses great height for a corner (he stands 6-foot-1), but the vast majority of his time spent on an NFL field has been as a gunner on punt coverage and a standout on field goal and kick units.

This camp, however, Williams' stock has risen to the point that the guy who went to Washburn University and was the 229th overall pick in the 2008 draft is getting reps with the Ravens' first-team defense ahead of Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr, two veterans who signed contracts with Baltimore that will pay them a combined $42 million.

"It's definitely been a long time coming, especially from where I came from and how hard I had to work to get here," Williams said after starting against the Chiefs in the Ravens' preseason game Friday. "Me being from a small school, small university, not many chances are given. So I just wanted to go out and put my best foot forward and really showcase that despite that I'm from a small school and despite that I don't have much experience, despite all those negative things, I can still come out there and compete, just like anybody else.

"Whether you're a first-rounder, second-rounder, it doesn't matter. Whoever they put out against me, I want to compete against, and that's what I think I showed (against Kansas City)."

Cary_Williams-tall.jpgIn the Ravens' two preseason games so far (the first of which saw him coming off the bench as a reserve), Williams has recorded four tackles and knocked down four passes.

He's run step-for-step with Chiefs Pro Bowl wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, played strong, physical press coverage, and while he allowed two completions against Kansas City - including a touchdown grab late in the first half - has had very few moments where he's looked outmatched.

"That was really the only play that he had that wasn't a good play in the game," head coach John Harbaugh said of the touchdown. "He had no other minuses that I am aware of. He had a bunch of broken up passes on those quick look throws. He did a good job."

Asked to grade his performance against Kansas City immediately after the game, Williams gave himself a B-plus.

"Whether it was fatigue or whatever it was, I still needed to come out there with the mindset that my technique needs to be great every play, every down, regardless of whether it's play 56, play 106 or play three," he said. "I still need to go out there with the mindset that I want to be physical and I want to continue my good footwork and my technique."

While Williams has been getting reps with the Ravens' first-team defense for over a week now, it's still too early to lock him in as a starter for the regular season opener against the Steelers.

Foxworth (knee) and Carr (hamstring) are both working back from injuries, and while the Ravens can stomach sending Williams out with the starters over those two at this point, it might not be easy for the team to have its top two highest-paid veteran corners coming off the bench come Week 1.

There's also the experience factor to consider here. Can the Ravens feel completely confident going with a starting cornerback tandem featuring Williams and rookie Jimmy Smith (who appears to have secured one of the starting spots) when those two have made just one NFL start between them? It's certainly possible, but they might prefer to have one of the more seasoned corners get the bulk of the reps alongside Smith for that Sept. 11 contest.

For now, Williams says he doesn't concern himself with any of the Week 1 planning or the battle for playing time; he's just focused on improving every time he steps foot onto the practice field.

"I don't think I'm worthy of a starting position, I just think that every day I need to work on something," Williams said, when questioned as to whether he feels he's earned a spot on the first-team. "It's nothing that I'm worthy of yet, because I haven't proved myself. As I continue with the preseason, I'll continue to get better. Eventually, those decisions will be made by the coaches.

"I'm not here to make that decision. Whatever they feel is best for the team, they're going to put the best 11 out there. I just continue to get better each day, work hard each day, and take it one day at a time."

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