Wide receiver Williamson is on own vision quest

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 23, 2007 - 12:40 AM

A trip to Nike headquarters revealed that his right eye is weaker than his left.

Players trickled into the locker room following the Vikings' first offseason practice until only Troy Williamson, a young assistant coach and a Jugs machine were left.

"This isn't working," Williamson said to the young assistant while trying to catch deep balls launched into a stiff, swirling wind. "It's crazy out here today. You got one of these machines inside?"

Moments later, Williamson, the seventh overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, was on his way inside to catch even more balls. It's become a daily routine, his way of dealing with the team-high 11 dropped passes he had in 14 games last season.

"I've caught about 13,000 balls in the three months since I've been back from Nike," said Williamson, referring to his two-day evaluation by Nike vision consultant Alan Reichow at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.

"[Receivers coach George Stewart] keeps track of all that stuff, and the other day he asked me how many balls I thought I had caught since Nike. I was going to say about 1,500. But it was 13,000. That's a lot. But I'm a professional. I want to conduct myself as a professional by taking this thing seriously."

Williamson revealed Tuesday that Reichow -- or "Uncle Al," as Williamson now calls him -- determined that the receiver's right eye is weaker than his left. Reichow's evaluation included tests that judged hand-eye coordination, eye movements and eye strength from different angles.

"Looking straight ahead, my eyes are 20-20," Williamson said. "But, as Uncle Al says, the eye is really more complicated than you think. So they tested me on different gazes as I'm looking at a ball to catch it. That's when they determined that my right eye was weaker."

Reichow prescribed a set of drills designed to strengthen Williamson's right eye. Nike has not returned calls to the Star Tribune, and Vikings coach Brad Childress has avoided talking about Williamson's Nike experience in detail.

"It's stuff that we're trying to keep under tabs, trying not to let too much stuff get out," Williamson said. "The drills and stuff are confidential, but I will say it's an ongoing process. I'm not finished yet, and there's more stuff I'm working with. But so far it's a lot of work and it really, really helps."

Williamson's eyes won't be retested at Nike headquarters until mid-June, but he said his right eye feels stronger and he is seeing the ball more clearly when he looks over his right shoulder. Whether that transfers to the field this fall, Williamson will have to wait and see.

"All I can do is put in my time and do what I need to do to get myself better and my confidence back up," Williamson said. "I have to practice every day and make the routine plays over and over, and the big plays, too, when it's time. And then I can be the player that they expected me to be when they drafted me that high."

Williamson has only 61 catches and two touchdowns in 26 NFL games. He had 37 catches and no touchdowns last season.

The Vikings have at least two ties to the Nike evaluation process. Alan Reichow is the son of Jerry Reichow, who has been with the Vikings as a player or member of the scouting department since 1961. And before the 1994 season, then-Vikings receiver Jake Reed visited Nike. He caught 85 balls that season.

"At first, I was like, 'I don't know if this stuff will work,' " Williamson said. "I mean I had my eyes checked before and they were 20-20. But when Coach Childress called me with the idea, I said I was fine with it. I'm OK with anything. But this has really surprised me. It's really good stuff. And it's working."

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