Detroit Lions wide receiver Roy Williams, right, catches a pass for a 51-yard touchdown as Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, left, defends during the first quarter, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2005, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Updated: November 26, 2011 12:28AM
The Bears made Roy Williams their No. 1 split end at the start of training camp. Now the big question is: Will they give him time to prove he deserved it?
With Johnny Knox outplaying Williams in the preseason, that’s the delicate issue the Bears could face with their opener against the Atlanta Falcons beckoning Sunday at Soldier Field. Of all the key figures in the spotlight — Jay Cutler, Mike Martz, Lance Briggs, Matt Forte, Lovie Smith, Gabe Carimi among them — few will have a leash as short as Williams.
‘‘First of all, let me say this: They all have to produce,’’ wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said Wednesday after practice at Halas Hall. ‘‘He’s in the same boat they’re all in. It’s no different for him than it is for Earl [Bennett], Devin [Hester], Johnny [Knox] or any of them.’’
But Bennett, Hester and Knox have had 16 months in Mike Martz’s system. Williams, who made the Pro Bowl playing in Martz’s system with the Lions in 2006, has had five weeks to reacclimate himself.
‘‘It doesn’t matter,’’ Drake said. ‘‘The standard that they’re all going to be held to is the same — high. Roy is no different than Johnny or Devin or Earl. That’s how I look at it.’’
That makes the game against the Falcons, and games against the Saints and Packers that follow, even more interesting.
The Bears have been criticized for being too patient with previous pet projects, from Rex Grossman to Mark Anderson to Adam Archuleta. Last year, though, was a breakthrough in accountability. Four opening-game starters were replaced before Week 5. Anderson was released after four games; Devin Aromashodu was benched after one.
With Knox ready to reclaim his starting position, the Bears risk pulling the rug out from their own experiment by giving Williams the hook too soon. The Sox gave Adam Dunn 500 at-bats. But Williams’ window of opportunity might not be nearly as wide open as that.
‘‘I don’t expect anything less than perfection,’’ Drake said. ‘‘It may not happen, but that’s what I expect from him. And if it doesn’t, then we have to talk about it.’’
Williams doesn’t seem too concerned about it. Even after an unimpressive preseason, he’s confident he’ll be productive in Martz’s offense.
‘‘Am I unsure? Heck, no. I’m good. I’m comfortable. I’m ready to make plays,’’ he said. ‘‘I know if I mess up, it’s going to be blown out of proportion. I’m not the perfect player. I’m going to mess up. But other than that, I’m ready to go.’’
Drake, who two weeks ago publicly put Williams on notice that he needed to show more to stay ahead of Knox, is satisfied with Williams’ response.
‘‘He’s playing faster. He’s getting himself in better shape,’’ Drake said. ‘‘He’s getting over some of the nagging injuries that he’s had. It’s just a matter of getting him out there and doing it on Sunday.
‘‘And I’m confident he will. Real confident. I’ve been around him. I know him. He’ll get going. He may not be spectacular. But he’ll do what he’s asked to do and get the job done.’’
Unfortunately, in the eyes of Bears fans, anything less than spectacular might not be good enough. But Williams said he is not offended by the skepticism.
‘‘I totally understand where the fans are coming from,’’ Williams said. ‘‘I know I played on ‘America’s Team,’ and everybody watched it and [saw] what happened down there. I know it’s not a clean slate here until Week 1 is over, and then we’ll see what happens.’’
It will be interesting to see if Bears fans — many of whom can’t wait for Knox to reclaim the starting spot they feel he never should have lost — give Williams much room to breathe. The scrutiny will be intense.
‘‘He’s got no choice but to handle it,’’ Drake said. ‘‘He’s a pro. He understands what people say about him. But it’s up to him to do something about it.
‘‘That’s been my conversation with him — the only one who can change the perception is you. Roy is a very intelligent person. Some of the criticism is justified. Some of it is not.
‘‘He knows what he has to do. And I expect him to do it.’’
It remains to be seen if Williams can produce under pressure. But he welcomes the opportunity.
‘‘Expectations should be high; I want them high,’’ he said. ‘‘So talk bad about me. I appreciate it. But if I do well, just please write that you’re sorry.’’