Williams ready to replace T.O. as Cowboys' top WR

Day by day, kid by kid, Roy Williams is doing his best to replace Terrell Owens as the most popular receiver on the Dallas Cowboys.

Every afternoon of training camp, Williams plucks a youngster out of the stands to be his water boy (or girl) for the rest of the workout. They get to hang out on the field of the Alamodome for about an hour, dwarfed by all the huge guys and loving every second.

"It's a non-paying position," Williams says, smiling, "but you've got first dibs on getting an autograph."

Although Williams did the same thing in Detroit, continuing the tradition here shows how comfortable he is in his new role as the No. 1 receiver. It's a good sign for the Cowboys considering how much they are relying on him now that T.O. is gone.

Team owner Jerry Jones pointed out again at the start of camp that "the decision to move on without Terrell was almost totally made" to get more out of Williams. There were other reasons T.O. had to go, but Jones is right.

The Cowboys sent first-, third- and sixth-round picks to Detroit for Williams last October, then gave him a $45 million, five-year contract extension. In return, he provided a measly 19 catches for 198 yards and one touchdown in 10 games. Owens had 213 yards in a single game last season.

"Everybody thinks I (stink)," Williams said. "I just have something to prove. It's not to prove that I don't (stink). It's just to be a consistent ballplayer."

At 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, Williams is a little taller and a little thinner than Owens. He's eight years younger, too. Williams may not be as fast, but the difference is not dramatic.

"I don't see a drop-off," tight end Jason Witten said.

The difference is results.

Williams' best year (82 catches, 1,310 yards) would be about fifth-best for Owens. The starkest stat is touchdowns: Williams has 30 over his five-year career; Owens scored 38 over three years in Dallas.

Then again, remember that few receivers in NFL history can match Owens' stats. Williams also has been hurt by playing on Detroit teams with few other offensive weapons.

"Roy is one of those players that feeds off momentum," said Jon Kitna, Williams' quarterback in his breakout season with the Lions and now his teammate again in Dallas. "When he gets a couple of catches and gets into the game early, he can become a real dangerous receiver, one that I've seen intimidate defenses. That's going to be a key. How can we get him comfortable? What are the routes he likes, that he's going to win 100 percent of the time?"

The Cowboys never figured those questions out last year.

Tony Romo was hurt when Williams arrived, then Williams was hurting once Romo was healthy. And, of course, there was T.O.'s looming presence and whatever behind-the-scenes trouble that was causing.

Whatever the reason, Romo hardly ever looked Williams' way. In fact, his lone TD catch was thrown by Brad Johnson. It doesn't matter whether the blame goes to Romo, Williams or offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. All three know they need to make this relationship work.

Romo and Williams started throwing together four weeks before the team's summer practices. A week into training camp, they are still figuring each other out. Another lesson came Monday when Romo threw a slant to Williams in the end zone, the ball arriving at the same time as cornerback Orlando Scandrick. A collision followed, with Williams' helmet flying off, although he insists that was only because he doesn't ever snap his chin strap for practice.

"(Romo) coaches me and I coach him and we're getting a good feel for each other," Williams said. "I don't think we can go out and play a game right now, but I think that in two weeks, three weeks, we'll be ready to go."

One comforting thing for the Cowboys is that Williams understands, accepts and even embraces his challenge.

Besides the kid-from-the-crowd trick, he's introduced a $10 fine for all passes dropped by receivers; they are tallied up in film sessions, with the money going toward a meal at the end of camp. He's also become perhaps the most-interviewed player in camp, patiently answering the same questions every day.

But it's one thing to act like a lead receiver in June, July and August. The Cowboys need to see it September through December and, they hope, all the way into February.

"That's the way this business works," Williams said. "You're supposed to produce in this league, especially if you're a high profile guy. You've got to produce. And that's what I've got to do. ...

"Me and Tony have that trust now, so he can throw me the ball and I won't (stink) any more."