GREEN BAY—If veteran Packers cornerback Tramon Williams were to articulate one wish he has at the moment, it's probably to enter the 2014 season healthy.
That hasn't been the case since 2011, when the Packers were coming off their postseason run to the title, during which Williams made his unforgettable playoff contributions.
Having Williams in peak form lasted less than one more game, though. A nasty shoulder injury in the '11 opener against New Orleans affected Williams for more than a year, and he still wasn't recovered from the nerve damage as 2012 began.
Then last year, a bone bruise in his knee sidelined him for much of training camp and limited him as the regular season got underway. Williams wasn't back to being the Tramon of old until the second half of 2013, when he intercepted three passes over the final seven regular-season games and added another pick in the playoffs.
That's how Williams would love to begin 2014, for multiple reasons. He's entering a contract year, the final season of an extension he signed just before the 2010 playoff run. He also knows that as the defense adds Julius Peppers, experiments with Micah Hyde and tweaks the scheme, he's seen as an old standby that must continue to play at his peak for the changes to have maximum effect.
"You have to put what you've got on the table every year," Williams said after a recent OTA practice. "I'm definitely looking to play at a high level, no doubt about it. Obviously, I don't know what the future brings for me, but I'm here right now, and I'll do the best I can for the Packers."
Williams' best is often game-changing. His diving interception in the waning moments in Dallas in December thwarted the Cowboys' last-ditch drive and preserved the Packers' historic comeback. In the playoffs, his leaping sideline interception deep in Green Bay territory prevented an early 6-0 49ers lead from getting bigger and sparked a Packers rally.
"A healthy Tramon playing like he can play, I'm excited to see it," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said, fully aware there are still nearly three full months to go before the season opener, and a lot can happen that is beyond anyone's control.
"We have to get our defense back to where we've been in the past, and a healthy Tramon is going to help us do that. What I don't want to do right now is overstate anybody. We're in the process of working. Our whole focus right now is, as a group, to play quality football."
With Williams and Sam Shields, both former undrafted players, leading the group, Whitt refers to the cornerbacks as "self-made men." The eldest of the bunch, Jarrett Bush, was also undrafted. Amongst draft picks Casey Hayward, Davon House, Hyde and rookie Demetri Goodson, only Hayward was selected higher than the fourth round.
"It's pretty deep," Williams said of the position. "We've got some other guys too who you can name. We're probably going to be counting on a lot of those guys. Hopefully, everyone comes to play."
That's Whitt's chief objective, to have that depth not just on paper but on the field if and when it's needed. Hayward missed most of last season due to injury, and Shields was in and out of the lineup at times.
"In my opinion, we have to be a top group," Whitt said. "We have to be able to make splash plays, and get the ball when the ball is needed. When we need an interception, when we need to make a third-down stop, we have to make those stops, and we have to be consistent."
The types of plays Whitt is talking about were made last year by Shields and Williams in the fourth quarter at Dallas, and by Bush at crunch time against Atlanta. But then there was Hyde's opportunity in the playoffs against San Francisco, the one that got away.
"When a game-winning play is on the line and we're there to make it, we need to make it," Whitt said. "That's where our focus is."
Enjoy photos of CB Tramon Williams from the 2013 season. Williams had three interceptions for the Packers in 2013.