Posted on Thu, Sep. 21, 2006

[size=13pt]Vikings have a new go-to guy[/size]

Williamson has knack for making big plays

Pioneer Press

Troy Williamson is a dash of spice in a clear-liquid diet, a splash of color in a black-and-white picture, a sleek Italian sports car in a parking lot filled with boxy minivans.

Metaphorically speaking, all are apt descriptions of the speedy second-year wide receiver, who has emerged as the biggest big-play man in the Vikings' new grind-it-out offense.

Williamson also is listed as questionable for Sunday's NFC North showdown against the Chicago Bears because of a sprained left shoulder, but he practiced Wednesday with the aid of a harness and said there's no doubt in his mind that he'll play.

"I did what I had to do," he said. "It feels all right. I just have to get it back loose."

That's good news for the Vikings, who can't afford to be without the player who has put the biggest shot of horsepower into their horse-and-buggy attack.

Coming off the first 100-yard receiving game of his young NFL career in Minnesota's 16-13 overtime victory over Carolina, Williamson ranks 10th in the league in receiving yards with 179 on 10 catches, including grabs of 46, 30 and 26 yards.

Throw in a 44-yard kickoff return in the season opener at Washington and he has accounted for four of the Vikings' six longest plays, but quarterback Brad Johnson said Williamson's value goes beyond the stat sheet.

"He's influencing the game," Johnson said. "Whether it's long passes (like the 46-yarder) against Washington or whether they're playing off and getting the underneath coverage with him, speed kind of puts the fear in people at different times. I think as many times as you get the ball in his hands, something's going to happen."

Tight end Jermaine Wiggins said Williamson is getting better every week and has opened things up for the other receivers with his ability to stretch the field.

His kind of speed will do that to a defense.

"I would love to have it," Wiggins said, laughing, "but I work with what I've got. Obviously, Troy's a great athlete. He's a smart kid. He's going to be a tremendous weapon in this offense for a number of years. I'm no scout, but I think he's going to be a really good player."

So does Johnson, who has been a big fan of last year's No. 1 draft choice from Day One.

"Troy's very explosive," Johnson said. "It's not just the bomb. That little drag route that he caught at the end of the game against Carolina on third and 10 and took it for 30 changed the game. … He's a playmaker. He's just getting better and better through time."

Williamson's strong start has silenced media critics who said the Vikings needed to trade for a No. 1 receiver after Koren Robinson's Aug. 15 DWI arrest and subsequent release, but the team's new go-to guy said he never took any of that personally.

"They probably felt like I was a young guy and still had a lot to learn," Williamson said. "I never take anything bad because I understand this business. They've got to do what they feel is best for the team."

From a defensive back's perspective, safety Dwight Smith said he's glad he doesn't have to worry about facing Williamson but that he hasn't noticed opposing defenses backing off.

"That's probably why they're getting run by right now," Smith said. "A lot of guys are cocky in this league. I'm one of them, so I can't knock them."

Smith, who signed with the Vikings the week before training camp, said he has been impressed by what he has seen of Williamson and the way he bounced back last week after a couple of bad drops against Washington.

"For him to come back and have the game he had in the second game shows he's mentally tough," Smith said. "That's what you want from your No. 1 receiver, a guy who can forget about the play before or the week before. For a young guy to show that kind of poise, you've got to take your hat off to him."

Williamson is still looking for his first touchdown catch of the season, but he figures it will come in due time, and he isn't about to put a ceiling on his potential.

"I say the sky's the limit," he said. "Every week I learn more and get the opportunity to do more and show people more. Who knows?"

Don Seeholzer can be reached at [email protected]