MANKATO This is no joke: On his first live pass of Vikings training camp, the ball bounced off Troy Williamson's hands and onto the ground. Drop. Williamson repeated the mistake on his first deep opportunity of the afternoon practice, turning and watching the ball sail through his outstretched arms.
This, too, is a true story: On the play after his first drop, Williamson ran the identical square-in pattern and made the catch.
Likewise in the afternoon, Williamson followed his mistake by making a tough catch with cornerback Antoine Winfield draped on his back.
Training camp will provide Williamson, the No. 7 overall pick of the 2005 draft, with perhaps his final canvas for proving he can play consistently at an NFL level. An offseason visit to Nike's vision center offered some hope.
Williamson's first day of camp was most notable for a newfound bravado and a willingness to put the inevitable but, perhaps, occasional drops behind him.
He declared himself the NFL's fastest receiver Friday and said: "I just can't wait to get back on the football field and really show the type of player I was drafted to be.
"Everything is going to pan out. I worked too hard in the offseason not to have a good year. I'm going to do what I've got to do this season to make myself better."
After dropping 11 passes in a disastrous 2006 season, Williamson got married in February, took a nine-day honeymoon to Hawaii and then got down to business. His first stop was a trip to Beaverton, Ore., where Nike's vision specialists diagnosed him with imbalanced eye strength.
Between that point and the start of training camp, Williamson estimates he caught nearly 20,000 practice passes, either at Winter Park or on a JUGS machine at his home. Nike, meanwhile, prescribed eye exercises designed to correct his depth perception.
For their part, the Vikings appear to have bought into Williamson's ocular and psychological rehabilitation. They signed only one significant free-agent receiver, Bobby Wade, and have paired him with Williamson in the starting lineup from the first spring practice.
"I have seen a change in his demeanor and a change in his personality," coach Brad Childress said. "He would be the first to tell you that it was rock bottom last year, but you can either stay and wallow around or you can pick yourself up and work to get better. He decided to do the latter. He is never going to be Dale Carnegie or anybody like that, but you can see his enthusiasm and his excitement because he knows he is improving as well."
Williamson engaged in a rare and extended banter Friday with reporters, laughing and challenging questions while at times sounding downright boastful. When a reporter noted he should be considered among the NFL's seven fastest receivers, Williamson said: "They might want to change that. It shouldn't be seven."
Williamson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds prior to the 2005 draft. After a moment, he added: "It should be like No. 1 or 2. I'll pretty much say I can run with anybody in the league."
A reporter then asked Williamson who should be No. 1 if he is No. 2. Williamson finally cut lose.
"No," he said. "I'm No. 1. You decide who No. 2 is."
The speed, of course, will do Williamson little good if his eyes and hands can't catch up. There was an audible groan at Minnesota State Mankato, Friday morning when he dropped that first pass.
"Big surprise," one fan shouted.
Williamson, however, was more proud of the catch he made on the next play than he was disappointed about the drop.