Nick Williams steps up in Hankerson’s absense

Falcons wide receiver Nick Williams picks up some yards. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Falcons wide receiver Nick Williams picks up some yards. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

By JuliaKate E. Culpepper
juliakate.culpepper@ajc.com

Although he has played in each of the Falcons’ seven games this season, Nick Williams likely will play a greater role Sunday when he replaces the injured Leonard Hankerson at wide receiver.

Even though Williams could receive more snaps Sunday against Tampa Bay (2-4) than in any other game in his NFL career, he said he’ll prepare as he does every week.

“(I’m going to) prepare like it’s championship week,” Williams said. “(I’ll) learn what (the Buccaneers) are trying to do on defense and what we’re trying to do against them.”

Williams stepped into Hankerson’s place Sunday against the Titans when Hankerson suffered a hamstring injury after playing eight snaps.

Williams, an undrafted free agent out of Connecticut, signed with the Redskins in September 2013 and spent his first season learning from the same offensive coordinator he has now — Kyle Shanahan. He said his previous experience with Shanahan helped him learn how to adapt to the Falcons (6-1).

“Not coming in and learning a brand new playbook and having some familiarity with the system and the way (Shanahan) calls plays and what he wants from his receivers really helped a lot,” Williams said.

After playing five games and catching three passes for 15 yards, Williams was released by the Redskins in September 2014.

Coach Dan Quinn said Williams was the choice to take Hankerson’s place Sunday because of the work ethic he has exhibited since he signed with the Falcons in February.

“I think it was just the work and mindset that he had,” Quinn said. “That’s really how he played his way onto the team in terms of you are here in terms of the way you battle and compete.”

So far this season, Williams has played in each of the Falcons’ games, totaling nine receptions for 98 yards.

Williams said although he’s disappointed to see Hankerson, his friend and teammate, go down with an injury, Williams will make the most of the opportunity he has been given to “step up.”

Hankerson didn’t participate in practice Wednesday, but Williams said he’s confident that Hankerson will push through his injury and return this season.

“I think he’s a great player. I’ve always thought that even when he was in Washington,” Williams said. “He’s gotten banged up here and there over the years, but I think he’s a super-talented guy.”

Williams recorded a career high of 43 yards on three catches, including a long of 21 yards Sunday in the Falcons’ 10-7 victory over the Titans (1-5).

Williams, in his second season in the NFL, has gleaned experience as a member of one of the NFL’s more talented pools of wide receivers.

“It’s definitely a loaded core, and it’s a great opportunity to learn from those guys,” Williams said. “Watching Julio (Jones) every day, you see something new every day, and his approach is awesome. Same with Roddy (White) and Devin (Hester).”

Quinn said he has noticed the many times Williams helped the Falcons move the chains.

“The times that we targeted him it seems that he seemed to come up with first-down catch after first-down catch,” Quinn said. “I think it’s that ability to know that when you’re coming over in his direction, he’s coming down with it.”

Williams is adjusting to his role on special teams in addition to playing wide receiver. He’s playing more in protection than returning kicks, as he did with the Redskins. Williams returned nine kicks for 188 yards in 2013.

Williams said moving inside instead of returning kicks has been an easy adjustment because he’s done coverage before in his career.

“My role now is slightly different on special teams, but (Eric Weems) is doing a great job back there on kicks and punts,” Williams said. “I think we’re going to keep that going moving forward.”


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