As he works this spring and summer to lock down the "nickel" cornerback job he held at the end of last season, Tramon Williams also is working to expand his game and make himself a more viable starting candidate in the future.
Williams, who made the roster as a training camp longshot a year ago, spent last season primarily covering outside receivers, or those who line up closest to the sidelines. With steadily improved play, by season's end he had worked his way up to the No. 3 cornerback spot behind starters Al Harris and Charles Woodson and was the team's nickel corner when the defense went to five defensive backs.
But now, in an effort to make himself more versatile and a stronger alternative to replace Harris or Woodson as a future starter, Williams is taking his share of reps during OTAs guarding slot receivers, or those who line up between the offensive line and the outside guys.
There's definitely a difference in the duties, Williams says, and he's adjusting to the new, more difficult, task.
"The (slot) receiver has a lot more room," Williams said. "There's two ways to go. He can go across the field, and he has a lot of room to go outside.
"As far as the outside receiver, you've got the sideline to help you out. You can use the sideline as another man. It's much easier on the outside. Inside, if you play your technique and the right leverage, you'll be OK. But if you don't do that, you'll be exposed."
Playing the right leverage in the slot means knowing where the safety is, too. Depending on the offensive formation and the coverage call, safety help could be to the inside or the outside on a slot receiver, whereas it's obviously to the inside on an outside receiver.
"You want to know where your help is at, always," Williams said. "You may have a safety in the middle of the field, and if you get caught inside, then you don't have anybody to the outside."
If Williams is able to hold down the nickel job this season, the defense will benefit from his expanded skills.
The past couple of years when the Packers have gone to their nickel package, Woodson has automatically shifted inside to cover the slot receiver, and the extra cornerback has taken an outside man.
But if the nickelback is reliable enough in the slot, it could potentially allow the Packers to keep Woodson and the nickel matched up against specific receivers, no matter where they line up, much like they do with Harris, who generally guards the opposition's No. 1 wideout.
How it all plays out remains to be seen, but no matter the end result, Williams is a prime example of Head Coach Mike McCarthy's philosophy of improving from within. He has taken advantage of the team's offseason program the past two years to go from practice squad player to special teams contributor to nickelback and potential future starter.
A non-drafted Louisiana Tech product, Williams has been as dedicated to the offseason workouts this year as he was last year, and it continues to have an impact on his game.
"He's a lot stronger," McCarthy said. "He's doing a lot better job in his bump technique, as far as the releases. He's had three or four that I can think of where he basically buried the receiver at the line of scrimmage.
"He's definitely had another very good offseason. I would say he was one of our most improved players last year, and I think he's taken another step so far this year."
Williams will head into training camp next month with an entirely different status than a year ago, when he was deep on the depth chart and facing tough odds to make the roster. But now that he's gotten his NFL career started and his future prospects continue to brighten, Williams isn't changing his approach as he continues to learn.
"Mentally, I'm always thinking what I can do better," Williams said. "I just want to come in and work hard and fight like I've been fighting. Nothing's written in stone in this business. You never know what can happen. I just want to continue to do my job and hope everything works out."