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Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

From USC to UCLA, a first moment of truth

August 31, 2007|Sam Farmer

Kyle Williams has already beaten the odds.

With the NFL's final cutdown deadline Saturday, the former USC offensive tackle still has a chance -- albeit an extremely slim one -- to make Seattle's 53-man roster. That he's gotten even this far is remarkable considering the tumultuous season he had last fall, when at one point he was so discouraged by his play that he quit the Trojans for a day.

"I'm really just living in the now," said Williams, who's third on the depth chart at right tackle. "I definitely feel very blessed and fortunate that I'm here."

The undrafted Williams first signed as a free agent with Baltimore but failed the physical because of concussions he suffered early in his college career. When the Ravens cut him, the Seahawks picked him up. He might be cut Saturday, but after that he could still be signed to the practice squad.

Williams' final season at USC was marked by some dramatic highs and lows, among them an embarrassing performance in the loss to UCLA, one that prompted him to briefly quit the team.

"After that UCLA game, everything was going through my mind," Williams said. "I was so down on myself, I thought there's no way the NFL's ever going to happen."

He returned to the team after a day, and ultimately found redemption in the Rose Bowl, when he shut down LaMarr Woodley, who later became a second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"My thought going into that was, 'This could be my last game, not just my last game as a Trojan,' " Williams said. "I had this sour taste in my mouth and thought this is definitely not the way I want to leave it."

It was partly that performance that got Williams this far. But, with the cutdown deadline looming, he's not banking on anything.

"If I've learned anything," he said, "it's that you've got to have a Plan B."

A look at how some other local rookies are faring at NFL camps:

LB Oscar Lua (USC), New England -- Cracking this group of linebackers is no easy task, not with veterans such as Tedy Bruschi, Adalius Thomas, Junior Seau and Larry Izzo (a wedge-busting madman on special teams) around. But Lua, a seventh-round pick, has surpassed expectations lasting this long, and could wind up securing a spot as a special teams player on the practice squad. He has made the most of his opportunities this summer with 12 tackles -- tying him for first on the team with fellow rookie Brandon Meriweather -- and an interception.

WR Steve Smith (USC), New York Giants -- Smith, a second-round pick, turned heads in his first week of practice when he made a circus catch of an Eli Manning pass along the sidelines. "I got my hands on the ball and he came over my back and tipped the ball," cornerback R.W. McQuarters told reporters. "The ball somehow stayed in the air, and he had great concentration and brought it in." Backup quarterback Jared Lorenzen said Smith is having an "amazing" camp. With two catches in each of his three exhibition games, Smith has the inside track on the third-receiver job, ahead of Sinorice Moss, a second-round pick in 2006.

P Cory Ohnesorge (Occidental), New York Giants -- The Giants signed Ohnesorge so he could take some of the strain off veteran Jeff Feagles, whose bad back could be aggravated if he were to handle all the punting duties at training camp. Ohnesorge is also holding for kicks. He isn't likely to make the final roster or a spot on the practice squad, but getting on tape is valuable because there always seems to be a team scanning the horizon for a punter at some point during the season.

K Justin Medlock (UCLA), Kansas City -- There's no mystery here; the job belongs to Medlock. That was clear when the Chiefs used a fifth-round pick on him and shipped Lawrence Tynes to the New York Giants. Still, it has been a hit-and-miss summer for Medlock. He nailed a go-ahead field goal against Cleveland with less than two minutes to play. But the Browns spoiled that for him by running back the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. The next week, Medlock missed a pair of kicks against Miami. The Chiefs are living dangerously when it comes to their kicking game. Not only do they have a rookie kicker, but a new long snapper and a holder who's not used to working with lefties like Medlock.

LB Dallas Sartz (USC), Washington -- Things didn't look good for Sartz early in training camp because he missed a lot of time with a bum hamstring. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said he had a lot of catching up to do. But the Redskins saw enough in Sartz to cut Lamar Marshall, who was slated to be a top reserve, and that freed up a spot for the Trojans rookie. Sartz probably cemented a spot on the 53-man roster -- as the sixth of six linebackers -- when he intercepted a tipped ball against Baltimore last week and returned it for the winning touchdown.

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