Wojo: Lions’ Jameson Williams must learn the right routes, on and off field

Detroit News

Allen Park — Jameson Williams said he wasn’t fully aware of NFL rules against players gambling and didn’t know he did anything wrong. His confusion might be considered understandable with all the league’s ties to betting sites, except the guidelines are explicit, and ignorance of the rules isn’t a remotely acceptable excuse.

Williams didn’t make any excuses when he spoke for the first time Thursday since his six-game suspension. He also didn’t think he did anything wrong with some of his social-media postings, which weren’t overly controversial, just confusing. For Williams and the Lions, this is where the confusion has to end.

The first-round pick from Alabama has a chance to be brilliant, as quick and elusive as any receiver in the league. He has recovered from knee surgery and was at the team’s OTA practices, running and cutting and diving for passes. Afterward, he spoke pleasantly, explaining “I’m a football player, not a gambler.” For the Lions’ gamble on Williams — trading up to the 12th pick last year for an injured receiver — to pay off, Williams has to stand by his words and live up to his promise.

In other words, for a 22-year-old who began his career at Ohio State before transferring, then excelled for one season in college football’s brightest spotlight, maturity could be an issue. If it’s not, and it’s all just confusing, Williams has every right to prove it.

“I feel like I’ve got to prove a lot to myself, before I can prove anything to anyone else,” he said. “I’ve got goals I’ve set. I just want to knock off my goal list, get on the field, things like that. Hopefully, once those things come, fans will be pleased with how I play football.”

Hopefully, he’ll play NFL football better than he plays with his phone and social media. No one’s getting preachy here. It’s just a fact that when the Lions play their seventh game this season, on Oct. 22 at Baltimore, Williams is scheduled to return to the field still with exactly one NFL reception. The injury wasn’t his fault, and he worked hard to get back.

But, he’s not back yet.

Williams wasn’t defensive about his suspension for using a mobile betting site on team premises, and he didn’t seem angry. He also wasn’t exactly contrite. It’s OK not to make a public show of remorse. But, it’s only OK if he knows what he did wrong, and accepts that not all rules make perfect sense, and not all perceptions are fair.

For instance, his social-media postings of a late-night visit to a Coney Island, or his video handing out $100 bills to kids in a Detroit neighborhood, can be viewed as admirable attempts to connect with the community. Liking a Tweet advocating a Lamar Jackson trade to the Lions can be viewed differently. None of it defines a person’s character, positively or negatively. But, it allows speculation and confusion, and in the absence of actual on-field production yet with the Lions, you wonder if Williams fully grasps the business side of the game.

Shortly after he was suspended, Williams posted a video of him in Las Vegas, apparently attending a fight. Again, not a big deal, but context matters in the public eye, something Williams clearly is adjusting to. He wasn’t defiant about his off-field activities, but was dismissive of the scrutiny.

“I live a regular lifestyle, I wouldn’t say a very special lifestyle,” Williams said. “I’m not the only person in the NFL who posts on Instagram or things like that. I would just say that’s just me. I wouldn’t change anything, though.”

In the next breath, Williams acknowledged his posts can be misconstrued. His liking of the Lamar Jackson post was perceived by some as a shot at Jared Goff, coming off a stellar season. Williams said, “It wasn’t no shot at Jared Goff. I love Goff.”

The question is, why even put it out there and stir conjecture? Williams is an immensely touted talent coming to a team growing from the ground up, under a coach in Dan Campbell who doesn’t coddle players or court divas. GM Brad Holmes talked sternly about accountability after Williams’ suspension.

During his brief action last season, Williams “liked” Tweets that suggested he should get the ball more, which was noticed by some teammates. The Lions are trying to build a culture of fearlessness, relentlessness and selflessness. Performance on the field shapes that. Social media can shade it in unfortunate ways.

“Things I like on Instagram, Twitter, I hope those don’t lead people the wrong way,” Williams said. “It’s social media, you know? People take social media like it’s right here. This is real life, and that’s social media. … I’m not really sure why people question me or anything like that. I’m out here with Jared Goff, not Lamar Jackson. I just think he’s a real good player and things like that.”

Don’t make the mistake of pinning this on a cultural divide, or a youth thing. Also, don’t make the mistake of overblowing it. Campbell is less concerned about Williams’ musings than his route-running.

“I feel like there’s a little better route control right now that I have seen over the last few weeks,” Campbell said Thursday. “As far as the other stuff, look, he knows. I mean, he’s gotten it from everybody and it happened. It’s an emphasis on the league right now. It’s a big thing. Our players know, we’ve tried to hammer it home.”

The gambling issue will grow as more states legalize mobile betting apps. Three other Lions also were caught, and all — C.J. Moore, Quintez Cephus, Stanley Berryhill — eventually were cut. Reports indicate another wave of suspensions around the league could be coming.

If you only focus on the muddled message from a league that touts gambling sites but has stringent rules against it for players, you’re missing the point. The league also promotes beer and liquor but doesn’t want it used while working at team facilities. The gambling rule is clear, and emphasized repeatedly by every team.

This doesn’t have to be a huge obstacle for Williams and the Lions. He still can participate in all team activities, even preseason games, just not the first six regular-season games. It could be an important lesson, hopefully learned by Williams and noted by others.

“It hit a couple other players around the league and on my team out the blue,” Williams said. “I wasn’t aware of this situation. But, it happened and I took it on the chin. … I was sick (about it). It’s not my last day living, so I just look forward to the better days, the next day, get out here with my team, run some routes.”

Picking the right routes, on and off the field, is Williams’ stated objective now. Going forward, no excuses, no confusion.

Bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bobwojnowski

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