Testaverde's advice helps Williams to breakout season

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The way DeAngelo Williams sees it, the credit for his breakout season with the Carolina Panthers goes to a 45-year-old guy in Florida.

Williams believes that guy now spends his days in Tampa doing impersonations of Al Bundy from "Married with Children," sitting on his couch, a cold beverage in his hand.

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Check out where Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams ranks in Michael Fabiano's list of the top fantasy rushers for Week 16:

» **1.: Adrian Peterson
» 2.: Michael Turner
» 3.: Pierre Thomas
» 4.: Steve Slaton
» 5.: Thomas Jones
» 6.: Brian Westbrook
» 7.: DeAngelo Williams

This guy would be Vinny Testaverde, the once-ageless quarterback who, before finally retiring at the end of last season, sat down the young running back and gave some wise, fatherly advice.

"I think he's probably impacted my season the most this year than anybody because of the conversation that we had before he left," Williams said Wednesday.

After serving as a backup for his first two seasons in the NFL, Williams has become one of the top running backs in the league, rushing for 1,229 yards and 14 touchdowns. The 25-year-old Williams' 5.5-yard average per carry is the best of any back with at least 100 carries.

Behind their renewed running game with Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers are 11-3 and play the New York Giants on Sunday with the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs on the line.

And while Williams teased Testaverde for his supposed easygoing lifestyle in retirement, Williams believes their talk about commitment and work ethic at the end of last season is the reason he has gone from a backup to somebody his teammates say should have been selected to the Pro Bowl.

"We had a lengthy conversation, and everything he said to me made perfect sense," said Williams, Carolina's first-round draft pick in 2006. "From the film room down to work ethic and everything of that nature. He really left me with some things that really touched me and stayed on my heart, as you can tell from this season."

Williams wouldn't reveal the exact details of the talk, and Testaverde couldn't be reached Wednesday for comment. But Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme believes Williams has benefited greatly from the advice of the 21-year veteran who was well-known for being in top condition and well-prepared for every game.

"Last year, Vinny talked to DeAngelo about that, about, 'Hey, when you practice, run. Finish runs,"' Delhomme said. "Because Vinny had all those years and knew how to prepare. He was a tireless worker. He prepared extremely hard. I thought it was great that Vinny did that, because obviously, he saw something in DeAngelo."

This year, after every running play at practice, Williams runs all the way to the end zone, no matter where on the field the play starts. Williams acknowledged he worked harder in the offseason and is in better condition. He's stronger, too, which has made him harder to tackle.

"Physically, I thought he really, really worked hard in every area from endurance to speed training to strength," Panthers coach John Fox said.

Williams is still a jokester with a bubbling personality. But he's now one of the hardest workers in the weight and film rooms, too.

"I know where guys are on the field now," Williams said. "Last year and the year before, when guys dove at my legs, I didn't really know to anticipate that or try to counter that. Now it's just happening instinctive for me. I look at film sometimes, and I wonder what I was thinking when I did that. It's just kind of instinctive. I know I have a feel for the game."

Williams also is more comfortable in second-year offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson's system. Williams rushed for 717 yards in an inconsistent 2007 as the No. 2 back behind DeShaun Foster.

"When Jeff got here two years ago, we weren't really comfortable in his offense," Williams said. "It was kind of different for us. We were trying to get a feeling for it, and then Jake goes down. He's our captain, our leader, our field general.

"We kind of did the switcheroo with the quarterback situation and going through those things. Not making excuses, but it was a little difficult for us to have our offense going and having the quarterbacks come in and out."

The rash of QB injuries was the reason Testaverde was lured from his couch on Long Island last season. He started -- and Carolina beat Arizona -- four days after he signed. It was after that game that Williams became friendly with him. Just before Testaverde retired and moved to Florida, he took Williams aside for the chat that helped jump-start his career.

"It made me think about some things," Williams said. "After that I sat down and had a long talk with myself ... but it made perfect sense. That's primarily the reason I'm having the season that I'm having this year. Hopefully, I can carry it on to seasons to come."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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