PITTSFORD - Jonathan Williams strode out of training camp Friday afternoon without a shirt, his pads dangling from his right hand. Sweat dripped off his six-pack as the sun beamed down on his chest. A bystander made a comment about Williams' half-naked strut, to which he responded, "I work too hard for this!"
This, which he was referring to as his physique, could also be this, his chance to actually make a dent in the Bills offense this year. He's finally getting a chance to show off, his game and his mid-section, with a rookie season in which he made minimal impact behind him.
The second-year running back out of Arkansas spent last year in the depths of the depth chart behind LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee, only tallying 94 yards on 27 carries, one catch for no yards and two fumbles. Williams admittedly wasn't himself for all of last season coming off a foot injury suffered in the summer of 2015 that sidelined him for his entire senior season with the Razorbacks. But with a year as a student under his belt, along with a fully healthy foot, Williams is primed to contribute as what looks to be Buffalo's No. 2 back.
"It’s funny. I was talking to a couple guys just yesterday, last night, and I was telling them how much difference a year can make," Williams said after Day 2 of training camp on Friday. "Last year I was coming out here and I was still kind of dealing with a foot injury and it was new. It was my first year coming back off of an injury. I didn’t play the year before and now coming out here, being able to take those "two" reps and learn from Shady, feel like I’m more a part of the team."
With a visibly increased focus on pass-catching out of the backfield under new head coach Sean McDermott and first-year offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, Williams set aside an hour each day this offseason to make sure that "one reception for no yards" sees a spike in Year 2.
A normal daily routine would go like this for the Allen, Texas native: Wake up at 7, eat breakfast, drive 15 minutes to Michael Johnson Training Facility in nearby McKinney, train there from 9-11 a.m., return home to rest and eat and work on pass-catching and route-running from 5-6 p.m. By no means are Williams and McCoy, one of the best and most versatile at his position in the league, the same style of player. But even if Williams can replicate some of that second dimension his superior has, it'll be an added bonus to an arsenal the Bills will rely significantly more on this season.
"Jonathan, he’s kind of split between power man and speed. Jonathan’s fast and he’s quick," McCoy said. "He doesn’t get a lot of praise for his quickness, so I think he’ll be a great change of pace, bringing in that power. We should do well. Mike" Gillislee "did very, very well last year. I think Jonathan’s gonna replace him and I think he’ll do good."
Replacing Gillislee would be a welcome surprise to Bills coaches. The team's backup last year who the Bills let walk in free agency to the Patriots, Gillislee amassed nine total touchdowns as a potent goal-line threat behind McCoy. A year after feeling left out, hurt and without a desire to even inform trainers about the pain in his foot, Williams feels ready to fill that role.
"He’s got good ball skills, he’s got good speed, he’s got good quickness, he can pass protect," said Tim Horton, Williams' position coach at Arkansas. "He’s a pretty complete player."
The last time Williams came off a healthy offseason, his junior year at Arkansas, he ran for almost 300 more yards and scored eight more touchdowns than the year before.
He struts through the grounds of St. John Fisher College with a little bit of that swagger back coming off another healthy offseason, ready to return to the back he thinks he can be.
"I don’t want it to be too much of a drop-off when Shady comes out," Williams said. " I want them to have that confidence in their No. 2 running back that whenever they put me in, there won’t be a drop-off."