With all of the good that's come from the 2011 preseason, there's something that's been weighing on my mind. Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins are showing no signs of pushing Justin Gage or Nate Washington out of a job. Now, Hawkins has always been known as the preseason superstar, but he hasn't even been that this year. I don't think we can blame his lack of playing time this season on some shady veteran loyalty by the coaching staff. He's failed to make plays and stretch the field like we need him to and because of that, I'm really starting to lose faith. I never expected Hawkins to blossom into a game changer or anything, but I guess I just figured that he'd have made a push for a starting spot by this point in his career. He seems to be the only "key" (if you could even call him key) receiver who's suffering from a lack of actually making plays in his opportunities in the preseason this year.
However, chalking him up as a failed project wouldn't hurt nearly as much as it does if Damian Williams had shown some progress. On a team where a dangerous number two receiver could make a huge difference, Williams just hasn't shown up this year like I thought he would. When he initially fell to the Titans at number 77 in last year's draft, I was pretty stoked. Williams had been touted as a high-round talent with great size and very soft hands whose overall strengths greatly outweighed his weaknesses. A sub-par 40 yard dash wasn't enough to dampen my expectations, I had visions of the next great receiver tandem in Tennessee with Williams and Britt. Reports that he'd bulked up to Britt's size in the offseason had me even more excited, he always looked a little lanky and definitely had room to grow. A guy at that size with the ability to run absolutely pristine routes with terrific hands would be an awesome compliment Kenny Britt's over the top, vertical receiving style.
The fact that Williams is listed behind Kenny Britt on the depth chart right now might not mean much at this point, it's also expected, Britt is the better receiver, but I can't help but see visions of last year's Randy Moss situation repeating itself. Not getting a player of Williams' caliber on the field would be a travesty...right? The thing that probably frightens me the most about this is that this coaching staff seems intent on getting the best guys on the field no matter what, so if that means that Hands and Gage are better suited to start opposite Britt in week one, that really doesn't speak too highly of what they must view Williams as. He's definitely on my watch list in 2011. I'm not having a full-scale freak out yet, but if this carries on into the regular season, I'll start to have my doubts.
Another guy who's been making plays but not getting any depth chart love is Marc Mariani. He's already an invaluable contributor as a return man, but it'd be really nice to see him get some work at the slot. Again, he's buried behind the terrible twosome at the moment, but it's still early so there's plenty of time for him to fix that. As for Kenny Britt? Well, the injury is obviously disappointing. Getting him on the field right now has got to be at the top of the team's priority list. Britt's a guy who can change the flow of an entire game when he's on.
Overall, I wouldn't call this a total bust so far, it's too early to throw down my final judgement on these guys, but to say that I expected Justin Gage (who, in fairness, is having a pretty awesome camp) to be ahead of Damian Williams at this point would be laughable. Perhaps this is due to a case of unrealistic expectations, but I don't think that I'm the only one who thought he'd be an upgrade over ol' number twelve when camp started.