Roy Williams is still chasing one simple goal.
For the first four and a half years of his career, Williams could only briefly get his hands on wins as part of a Detroit team that is still searching for the light of the playoffs.
Traded to Dallas in 2008, Williams played a part in the Cowboys’ playoff win in 2009, then suffered through a disappointing season last year as Dallas struggled to a 6-10 mark and missed the playoffs.
“You have to be able to do it on the field,” Williams said. “We looked like paper champs. We had the team, we had the talent, but when we played, it didn’t pan out for us. We have to be better next year.”
Provided that next year begins on time, of course.
Mired in the legal battles of a lockout that threatens to shorten the NFL season, Williams hasn’t been able to participate in the minicamps, workouts and offseason programs that normally dot the NFL’s offseason.
For a young player, the wait has been excruciating.
But Williams is about to enter his eighth season. At this point in his career, his body needs to rest before he can gear up for another run at the postseason.
“I talked to a player who was contemplating retirement, but the lockout has gotten his body back to where it needs to be,” Williams said. “For us older players, it’s good.”
At the same time, a lot has changed since last summer.
The Cowboys have a new head coach in former offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Expectations have changed. Regarded as a sure-fire Super Bowl contender a year ago, Dallas found itself picking ninth in the NFL Draft and trying to pick up the pieces of a season that left the Cowboys disappointed.
Every team in the NFL has lost some of the offseason work that can catapult a team on the kind of run the Cowboys want to make in 2011.
“We’re losing our key time to jell as a team,” Williams said. “That’s when you come together, in offseason, OTAs, minicamps. We try to make it up with our own workouts, but it’s not the same as it is when the coaches are pushing you.”
Williams has also been asked to learn a new role in Dallas.
Featured as the No. 1 receiver in Detroit, Williams came to the Cowboys in a high-profile mid-season trade that placed a lot of expectations on his shoulders. Williams caught 38 passes and seven touchdowns in his first full season, and then 37 catches for 530 yards and five touchdowns a year ago while surrounded by a talented stable of receivers that includes Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten.
For some people, that production hasn’t been enough, even though the Cowboys finished sixth in the league in passing offense last season and did it despite the loss of injured quarterback Tony Romo.
“It’s been tough, because everybody’s expecting me to do all these things that I’m very capable of doing when given the opportunity,” Williams said. “I’m a role player, and I just try to make the plays whenever they come my way.”
Playing in Dallas puts a Cowboys player under the microscope.
Every play — every catch, every missed connection — is highlighted and scrutinized.
“When I first got to Dallas and saw all the media — in Detroit we only had like four or five guys — in Dallas, it’s like 25, 26,” Williams said. “It’s America’s team, the most-viewed organization in any sport.”
All Williams can do is keep playing.
The Cowboys have made some strides to improve the offensive line, to allow quarterback Romo enough time to find Williams and the rest of those weapons running through secondaries.
And as soon as the lockout ends, Williams will be back at work, chasing the same goal he’s always wanted to get.
“Wins,” Williams said. “We should be better next year.”