How Tyrell Williams went from emulating Calvin Johnson to following in his shoes

Detroit Free Press

When Tyrell Williams made the switch from quarterback to wide receiver in high school, there were two players at his new position he tried to model his game after: Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson.

Now that Johnson is set to join Moss in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend, just the seventh first-ballot receiver to be enshrined in Canton, Williams is following in Johnson’s legendary shoes as the Detroit Lions’ No. 1 receiver

“I think it’d be sick if we were in the Hall of Fame game to be there, cause I’ve never met him or anything so it’d be cool just to pick his brain and see some of the stuff that he would do or thought as a bigger receiver,” Williams said after practice Wednesday. “But yeah, it’s going to be awesome to see him do that. I can’t imagine what it’ll be like to go to the Hall of Fame and be in there, especially a first-ballot guy. I’m excited for him. It’s awesome.”

Williams, who returned to practice Wednesday after dislocating his pinky finger Tuesday, said he hopes to use Johnson as a sounding board to improve his game at some point fall.

Johnson remains at odds with the Lions organization after the team forced him to repay $1.6 million of his signing bonus when he retired in 2016, but he has worked privately with college and pro receivers in the past and last year spoke on a Zoom with Lions receivers at the behest of then-assistant coach Robert Prince.

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Williams, a big receiver like Johnson at 6-feet-4 and 210 pounds, said he started studying Johnson in-depth once he got to the NFL and picked up tips about route running.

“Just how he presses,” Williams said. “Everything’s off his deep ball. I think that was a tough thing for me to get comfortable with was just press every route as like I’m running a go or running a post. And I think he does a good job of that. Obviously, the defender’s a little more scared of him cause the size and speed that he’s shown on film. That was something that I really tried to work on my first two years in the league is really just pressing vertical on a lot of stuff.”

Iffy’s role

Third-round defensive back Ifeatu Melifonwu can play almost any position in the secondary, but one spot he will not see time as a rookie is safety.

“He has the ability to be able to do it, but right now — man, especially, I’d be a bad coach if I put him in that many positions,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said.

Melifonwu has played outside cornerback and inside in nickel and dime packages so far for the Lions this summer. He is playing behind Mike Ford at slot cornerback, but could have a role in sub packages this fall.

Glenn said he prefers bigger slot cornerbacks like Ford and the 6 foot 3, 210-pound Melifonwu because of their ability to help as a run defender when they line up in zone coverage away from the pass-side strength of an offensive formation.

“You really like to have a developmental guy like that,” Glenn said. “He’s a matchup piece, so thing is he’s smart, too. Man, you can play this guy in a lot of different spots. Nickel, dime, hell, he can play safety. But man, we want to make sure that we take advantage of what he is now and not try to put him in too many spots, but spots that we know he can excel.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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