IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams is used to dealing out big hits. Lately, his reputation has been taking its share.
Williams has gone from fan favorite to fans' favorite punching bag in recent years, mostly because of how often touchdown passes are thrown with him in the vicinity.
Team has his back
Numerous members of the Cowboys organization have come to the defense of safety Roy Williams, who has taken his share of heat this offseason for his struggles in coverage:
» Secondary coach Dave Campo: "All of a sudden, everybody thinks he can't play, that's a bunch of baloney."
» Head coach Wade Phillips: "He was our second-leading tackler missing two games, so he had a lot of positive last year that I think people are overlooking."
» Owner Jerry Jones: "Every one of us need to be emptying our bucket and doing everything we can to win, I don't expect to have anything but that from Roy."
He hasn't helped himself, in or out of the locker room, by blaming others, from reporters he accused of not understanding what was happening to teammates he claimed to be bailing out. At least, that's what he would say the few times he was willing to be interviewed.
Coaches keep insisting the big hitter is just fine as a cover guy, even though last season they began sending him to the sideline in obvious passing situations.
All that is merely background, setting up how things have gotten worse in recent weeks.
It started with Williams going on a local radio station and admitting there were times last season when he lined up against someone he knew he couldn't cover, leaving him hoping the quarterback wouldn't throw his way.
Then longtime teammate Greg Ellis said in a radio interview that Williams grumbled about not fitting into coach Wade Phillips' defense. He also accused Williams of avoiding teammates by working out early in the mornings, leaving before anyone else arrives.
Soon, coaches invited Williams in for a heart-to-heart chat.
The first week of organized team activities would have been a great time for Williams to step forward and clear the air, with teammates and fans, via the media. Instead, he took his family to Mexico.
He was probably back in time to hear cornerback Terence Newman tell a local television station Sunday that there were times last season that Williams came into the huddle with the "deer in the headlights" look.
When Williams returned to work Tuesday, he was greeted by a local newspaper column headlined, "Status of Dallas Cowboys' Roy Williams slowly sinking."
On Wednesday, when the locker room was open to media, Williams had another chance to voice his side of the story.
He never showed up at his locker.
So much for the changes he talked about in January, when he said he was switching from No. 31 to 38 as a way of reinventing himself.
By staying away from the cameras, Williams left others to talk about him again. Predictably, coaches and team owner Jerry Jones came to his defense, and Newman was forced to break down his buzzworthy quote.
"I think every DB in the league has looked like a deer in the headlights at times," Newman said, adding he heard the same thing from then-coach Bill Parcells early in his own career.
"It wasn't like I said during the whole season last year Roy was looking like a deer in the headlights. I said 'at times.' It happens. I stick behind it. It was not like it was something bad. If you get beat on a play you come back to the huddle and you don't look like you are confident."
Newman and Williams haven't discussed the comment.
"He probably saw it and understood," Newman said. "He didn't say anything about it."
Phillips is living up to his reputation as a player's coach, insisting that Williams "did not give up a deep pass last year, not one," and giving him credit by association: "He was on a 13-3 team that, pass-defense wise was in the top five."
"I hate to see somebody get bashed, and it's kind of a Roy Williams bash here for some reason," Phillips said. "He can do better, but he was voted into the Pro Bowl. He was our second-leading tackler missing two games, so he had a lot of positive last year that I think people are overlooking."
Expectations are part of Williams' PR problem.
The eighth overall pick in 2002, Williams blended in alongside Darren Woodson and made all sorts of highlight-reel plays. The team won only five games that year so there wasn't much else to brag about except the exciting rookie, turning his jersey into a strong seller.
A few years later, he got a $25.2 million contract through 2010.
Williams has remained a lightning rod for criticism. Parcells taunted him for being "a biscuit short of a linebacker." The league's banning of the horse-collar tackle is known as the Roy Williams Rule. Sports Illustrated ranked him among the most overrated and most feared.
Dave Campo was the Dallas coach when Williams arrived. He's back with the club as secondary coach and said Williams still has "all the skills necessary" to be a great player.
"All of a sudden, everybody thinks he can't play," Campo said. "That's a bunch of baloney."
Reminded that Williams acknowledged his lack of confidence, Campo said, "After he gets beat down enough, a guy has a tendency to maybe say, `Well, you know, maybe they're right.' Unfortunately."
"He's got to do it on his own, though," Campo said.
Jones is counting on it.
"Every one of us need to be emptying our bucket and doing everything we can to win," he said. "I don't expect to have anything but that from Roy. I think we've got a good chance to see it."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press