Updated August 12, 2020 - 11:03 pm
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the fibrous tissue — the plantar fascia — along the bottom of your foot. It connects your heel bone to your toes. The condition feels like your dogs are barking as if stuck in an oven at a toasty 450 degrees.
Tyrell Williams knows such pain. Literally. Figuratively. However you want to describe why his was a disappointing first season with the Raiders.
How ironic: Williams was signed as a No. 2 wide receiver last year and yet thrust into a leading role because of another pair of feet. Antonio Brown had frozen ones. Just another part of that guy’s bizarro world.
Williams insists he can again run routes without wincing in pain. If so, there’s only upside for the Raiders, who officially opened football activities at training camp Wednesday.
Say what you want about those rookie receivers the Raiders drafted — and there appears to be some serious ability within them — but few are those NFL teams that discount a veteran receiver who has produced over time. Pre-smoldering feet, Williams did.
A proven player
The Raiders signed him to a four-year deal worth $44 million (half in guarantees) because of what he did with the Chargers. He more than filled a top spot in 2016, when Keenan Allen went down in Week 1 with a knee injury and Williams’ role was elevated. His response from 119 targets: 69 receptions for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns.
But on an ideal depth chart, Williams as a No. 2 thrives because of the skill set of another. Henry Ruggs is set to play such a role.
“That dude is fast,” Williams said of the rookie. “We’ve just been doing mostly walk-through, and he’s still super quick. He works hard, makes plays and when the ball comes to him, he makes those catches. I think (Ruggs’ speed) is going to open up so much for me, for (quarterback) Derek (Carr), for the run game, for everybody.”
That’s the plan in a healthy existence. Williams caught touchdowns in each of last season’s first four games, missed two once the foot condition set in, caught one in his fifth game played and was never the same. Not near as explosive. Not much of a threat anywhere on the field.
But he can really go when totally fit. In five pro seasons, Williams is averaging 16.1 yards per catch. Even last year, when he was trying to beat NFL defensive backs with feet on which most people couldn’t stand, he averaged 15.5 yards over 42 receptions for 651 yards and six scores.
Game plans rarely forget him, given few receivers across the league in the last four years have been targeted as often as Williams. We’re taking Tyreek Hill and Julio Jones company. Embed:
And while happiness might be a choice, it’s a lot easier to discover with no training camp disruptions. Williams didn’t mention specific names Wednesday, but you’d have to be high on helium from a hot air balloon not to realize his comments were pointed at the guy with frozen feet.
Not to mention how much weirdness said person created throughout the series “Hard Knocks.”
“Last year, going through it, it didn’t feel like a big distraction until now and how smooth and how easy it has been,” Williams said. “So last year I think it definitely was a distraction. We tried not to let it be, but I think it did get to some of us. It was just kind of annoying for sure.
“We have guys (now) who are excited to be here and guys that are excited to get on the field. Last year, we just couldn’t be ourselves, couldn’t really enjoy, couldn’t really settle in.”
Competing for spots
There isn’t time for pleasantries. The room might be free of unhinged souls, but it’s also deeper with talent. Williams and his experience have the edge to start, but the Raiders didn’t draft Bryan Edwards out of South Carolina not to eventually play him.
Edwards has had his own injury problems, but should in time compete to be the X receiver opposite the Z of Ruggs. That’s the NFL. Competition stops for nothing, even inflammation of the fibrous tissue.
“I feel good coming into this season,” Williams said. “I feel 100 percent. I feel fast, feel back to myself. It took a pretty long time into the offseason to finally start feeling better. I don’t want to go back.”
Hey, having your dogs roasting in the oven for several months is enough for anyone.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.