Three years removed from a promising rookie campaign in which he led the Ravens in average yards per catch and converted 81.8 percent of his 22 receptions into first downs, Demetrius Williams found himself through the first two months of this season playing wide receiver on the scout team.
Despite having gone nine games without a pass thrown in his direction, including three games for which he was activated but did not play, Williams said he has resisted the temptation to become frustrated over his reduced role.
"The biggest goal was for my team to be out there with an opportunity to win," Williams said. "Even though I wasn't in the offensive game plan, I was still actually helping out on offense versus the defense and giving them a better look and things like that. So, I always felt like a part of what we were doing. It's just that I wasn't getting recognized on Sundays. My coaches always told me just to stay ready. That was kind of my idea about what could happen. So I've tried to stay as ready as possible."
That approach is beginning to pay off for Williams, 26, who could be in line to make his first start of the season when the Chicago Bears visit M&T; Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Wide-outs Mark Clayton (right hamstring) and Kelley Washington (ankle) are dealing with injuries that kept them out of last Sunday's 48-3 thumping of the Detroit Lions and prevented them from practicing Wednesday and Thursday.
Even if Clayton and Washington bounce back, they could be rusty and their play limited. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said Thursday that Williams would "play significantly."
"This week will be another great opportunity for him," Cameron said. "He's practiced well all year long, and he's staying healthy. I think he's got a good feel for what we're trying to do. You keep telling guys, 'We're going to need you and we're counting on you,' and he's bought into what we're doing and I think it's reflected in the way he's playing."
After being selected in the fourth round of the 2006 draft, Williams, 6 feet 2 and 202 pounds, caught 22 passes for 396 yards (an 18-yard average) and two touchdowns in his rookie season.
But his second season was ended after nine games by a high ankle sprain, and last season was cut short after seven games by surgery to repair a strained left Achilles tendon.
Since then, Williams has been striving to recapture the form he showed as a rookie.
"Everybody has expectations when you get drafted," he said. "I had a couple of unfortunate seasons with injuries, but I'm not injured anymore. I'm healthy. And whenever I get my time to get in there and show that I can play and prove to the coaches that they can depend on me, that's what I'm going to do."
But at the beginning of this season, Williams had fallen to fourth on the depth chart behind Derrick Mason, Clayton and Washington, and was lining up on the scout team, impersonating, among others, New England's Randy Moss before the game against the Patriots on Oct. 4.
But when Clayton tweaked his right hamstring against the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 7, Williams got his chance. He drew a couple of pass-interference penalties that led to one touchdown and nearly another, but wide receivers coach Jim Hostler said Williams might have had two touchdown catches if he had attacked the ball in mid-air with his hands.
"The week before [the Detroit game], he had two opportunities to make those plays and he didn't do it," Hostler said. "We talked about those plays. ... With all my guys, when opportunities are given to you, good fundamentals are going to help you make those plays."
Williams registered his best performance of the season against the Lions, catching two passes for 45 yards, including a 34-yard reception that set up a touchdown run by Le'Ron McClain.
Williams, who will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end, knows his play could make an impression on another NFL franchise, but he says his priority is helping the Ravens in their playoff push.
"Each week, I've got to keep my head focused and try to go out there and make plays," he said. "Whatever I can do to help out the offense and get them into scoring position, I'm going to do. I've just got to stay focused at this point."
Notes: : The Ravens are expected to play without two starters on offense - tackle Jared Gaither (foot) and Clayton (hamstring and knee) - against the Bears. Gaither has been ruled out, and Clayton is listed as doubtful. For the second straight game, rookie first-round pick Michael Oher will start at left tackle and Oniel Cousins will play right tackle. It is unclear who will start for Clayton. Washington (ankle), who is listed as questionable, is considered a game-time decision. Williams would start if Clayton and Washington are sidelined. Justin Harper would become the No. 3 wide receiver. Backup defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (back) is out. Seven Ravens are listed as questionable: Washington, linebackers Jarret Johnson (knee and back) and Tavares Gooden (groin), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (ankle), safeties Ed Reed (groin and foot) and K.J. Gerard (thigh) and tight end L.J. Smith (ankle). Three Ravens are probable: center Matt Birk (neck), wide receiver Derrick Mason (finger) and linebacker-defensive end Terrell Suggs (knee). ... At the end of Friday's practice, starting cornerback Lardarius Webb was running some routes as a wide receiver. Injuries could make the Ravens desperate at that position Sunday. Asked about working at wide receiver, Webb said, "Nah. I dropped a kick this week in practice, so I'm just working on my hands extra on the side." But Webb said it "would be nice" to get a shot at wide receiver. "Maybe one day in my career I would love for that to happen." ... Chef Duff, star of the Food Network's "Ace of Cakes" and owner of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, was cutting cake at Ravens headquarters. He and Ngata designed a Ravens bird cake for an episode that will air in the spring. ... Former Ravens coach Brian Billick, who will be the television analyst for Sunday's game, was at Ravens headquarters for production meetings, where he sat down with Joe Flacco, Todd Heap and Ray Rice.
Baltimore Sun reporters Jamison Hensley and Ken Murray contributed to this article.
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Line: Ravens by 11