Ask Williams the first word that comes to his mind regarding Nicks and he barely hesitates before answering: “exciting. He goes up and makes plays that excite everybody.”
We all know that he can catch with the best of them, but will he be able to block, a staple of so many previous standout Giants receivers?
Williams again doesn’t even pause. “Hakeem locks on and doesn’t let go,” he said. Williams added that Nicks has a very strong body and should be a perfect fit because he never liked cut-blocking, which is rarely asked of NFL receivers.
But will Nicks, a Charlotte native, be able to handle the bright lights of New York City. Surely, Williams says. “He’s wanted to play in the NFL his whole life,” Nicks’ coach said. “He’s always remained focused on that and I’m sure he’ll remain that way. Anyway, he’s not much for going out in the first place.”
Like most good locker room leaders, Nicks prefers to let his actions speak louder than his words.
“He’s a quiet leader,” Williams stated. “But he will speak when it’s needed.”
Williams, a 24-year coaching veteran that spent six seasons coaching the Bucs WRs from 1996-01, said the most impressive thing that Nicks did during his time as a Tar Heel actually came well after he had played his final collegiate game.
As most already well know, Nicks injured his hamstring during the NFL Combine in February. That left him well less than prepared to participate in North Carolina’s Pro Day in mid-March. However, the leader that he was, Nicks went out there and risked hurting his draft stock for the good of his team – his former team at that, Williams reminded.
“He knew that if he didn’t work out so many of the scouts that were planning to attend likely wouldn’t have showed up,” Williams recalled. “He didn’t want to hurt any of his teammates’ chances of being drafted or even signed as free agents after the draft so he went out there and did his best. It was one of the most selfless actions I’ve ever seen from a football player.”
Even North Carolina head coach Butch Davis was impressed by Nicks’ noble act.
“I’m really proud that Hakeem is here today,” Davis said during UNC’s Pro Day. “He’s the draw that might help some of these other guys. The ultimate way that you can be a team player and make sacrifices for your teammates is to work out.”
Coach Williams was kind enough to answer countless questions from TGI in order for Giants fans to gain a greater insight into Hakeem Nicks. Here are a few more questions and answers from our phone conversation.
Q: What kind of guy are the Giants getting in Hakeem Nicks?
A: He’s a great kid. He loves to play the game. He was on a mission from Day One to get himself to the National Football League. We’re happy for him because he’s worked hard.
Q: How is his maturity level as a junior entry?
A: Hakeem wants to do well any time he’s on the football field. He enjoys the spotlight, but if things aren’t going right, he’ll work hard to make it right. I know he’s going to do well in that program because they like to throw the ball and he likes to catch it.
Q: What kind of holes are there in his game?
A: There are things he has to work on and he’ll do it. I know they have an excellent receivers coach (Mike Sullivan) there in New York and he’ll help Hakeem skills-wise to continue to develop. I think the main thing he’ll need to focus on is understanding the coverages in the National Football League. They can disguise coverages really well and can change on the fly. I don’t think he’ll have a hard time getting off press coverage because he’s so strong, but he’s going to have to work because the DBs are going to be better than the DBs he’s faced the last two years.
Q: What’s one thing that really stands out about Hakeem?
A: The main thing that stands out to me is that wherever the ball was he was going to try to come down with it. If that meant it was a one-handed catch behind him or that (Meineke Car Care) Bowl game catch where he brought it all the way behind his back, he was going to find a way to come down with it.
Q: Was that the best catch you’ve ever seen?
A: I’ve never seen any better than that in a game, but some of Hakeem’s best catches were during practices on Thursdays when we went 2:00 drill against the defense.
Q: He was flawless during the first day of practices but he did let an easy one get away from him during the second day. How often did that happen at UNC?
A: I think that sometimes he thinks a little ahead of himself and he’ll have a tendency to take his eyes off the ball. Plus, he has to get used to the ball coming out with no white stripe on it either.
Q: How excited are you for him to be able to play with a guy like Eli Manning?
A: I’m excited for him. I know the guys at Indy thought they were going to have a good shot to get him. For him to be able to play with either Peyton or Eli will be unbelievably special. Hakeem will do whatever it takes to work to develop the relationship so that he can get on the same page with his quarterback. Hakeem will make mistakes, just like any rookie will. But he will do everything he can to get those mistakes corrected because he wants to be good. He doesn’t want to just make it; he wants to make it for a long time in the league.
Q: How good do you think he can be?
A: If he just stays with his quarterback and plays within the system of the offense and learns the offense every day and gets a little better every day, he can be real special.