DETROIT – The last time anyone saw Mike Williams – really saw Mike Williams – he was catching touchdown passes, throwing them when he felt like it and generally making a mockery of anyone who tried to do anything about it. But that was in college and since then he has received quite an education. There was the decision to follow Maurice Clarett through a loophole that slammed shut, which wouldn’t have been so problematic if he hadn’t dropped out of school, hired an agent and gone vacationing in the Caribbean. Mistakes or victim of circumstance, Williams paid the price by sitting on the sidelines last season – ineligible to return to USC and barred from playing in the NFL. Just when it seemed like he’d done his penance, the draft rolled around and instead of landing in Minnesota to replace Randy Moss, or one of several other places – Washington, Chicago, San Diego, Dallas – looking for a big, dynamic receiver, he ended up in … Detroit. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 Which already had two of them – Roy Williams and Charles Rogers. Williams showed up three days late for work, and when he did get around to signing his contract, he wasn’t quite in game shape. Nor was he all that well read when it came to the playbook. In three games, he has caught four passes for 25 yards – numbers that used to constitute one drive, though he nearly snatched the game-winner last week, a few toes barely crossing the end zone chalk in the final seconds of a 17-13 loss at Tampa Bay. Now it will be different. Rogers, who had broken his collarbone in his first two seasons, was suspended Monday for four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy – an explanation for why the Lions selected Williams, though it presumes some forward thinking on the part of president Matt Millen. Coach Steve Mariucci wasn’t sure whether Williams or journeyman Kevin Johnson will start at Rogers’ split-end spot today against Baltimore, but either way the rookie will be on the field frequently. “Coach Mooch pulled me aside and said here’s your opportunity,” Williams said Friday after practice. “The offensive guys, they know I can do it. I expect to be able to do it. It’s an opportunity to make more plays to help us win.” They could no doubt use it. The Lions’ toothless offense has scored a total of 36 points this season. It is 29th in total offense, averaging 238 yards per game. This is hard to explain since the unit has seven first-round picks – linemen Damien Woody and Jeff Backus, tailback Kevin Jones, receivers Williams, Williams and Rogers and quarterback Joey Harrington. The latter four were top-10 picks. There’s been some grumbling about Mariucci’s conservative nature. New offensive coordinator Ted Tollner has been known to kill an offense or two in his time. The receivers have been accused by some TV commentators of dogging it. And then there is everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Harrington. In any case, the whole doesn’t equal the sum of the parts. “I don’t know why,” said Williams, who is 6-foot-4, 229 pounds. “I think we’re still working. There’s no timetable. We’ve got a fairly new group. It might not have happened the first few weeks, but it will happen. We’re not panicking.” Nor should they. Despite all the problems, they are in the NFC North, where a 1-2 record is good for a tie for first place with Chicago. If Williams won’t quite admit it, the year off is partly responsible for his slow start. “He’s just getting back to being the same player,” said rookie defensive tackle Shaun Cody, his former USC teammate. “If you’re not playing for a year, you lose that football mentality. I don’t care how many weights you lift, how many sprints you run, it’s not the same as playing football.” Roy Williams agreed. The two befriended each other on the college postseason awards circuit two years ago, when they thought they’d enter the NFL together. “Mike still needs more balls, more catches, more hits,” Roy Williams said. “You don’t get hit at all in practice and he hasn’t gotten hit much in games. You’ve got to get used to the bumps and bruises on your wrists, your legs.” Both Williamses would like for Mike to become more involved. The problem, both say, is that the X-receiver (usually the split end) hasn’t been much of a factor in the flanker-centric offense. “I was the ‘X’ at ‘SC, but there you get the rock – the ball’s coming to you,” Mike said. “Here, the ball ain’t coming to you too much.” To Roy, it would be nice if he didn’t get so much attention. “You don’t get looked at enough,” Roy said of the split end. Why not? “Ask Bill Walsh,” Roy said of the man who popularized the West Coast offense. “I’m a fan of the West Coast, but it’s back from the ’70s. It’s tough to have three (receivers) out there and the focus is on one.” Mike Williams says he’s got few complaints. He has had to work harder than he ever did in college. He’s adjusting to life on his own. He’s living by himself, which he doesn’t mind, since he considers himself a “neat freak” and doesn’t have to tell anyone to pick up after themselves. He’s also starting to fit in with the Lions. “I do now,” he said. “When I first got drafted, of course, I would have liked to go to a team that doesn’t have any receivers, or have very few and I could have come in and been the guy right away. Now, where I’m at, it’s kind of different. You feel a lot better about things when you’ve paid your dues and you’ve had to work hard for it. “Football means more to me than it did in college in trying to get better every single day, trying to work hard on my technique every single day. It’s like a whole new beginning. When I had the year off, I told myself I was going to play like my life depended on it. That attitude has kind of helped me out.” Billy Witz covers the NFL for the Daily News. He can be reached at (818) 713-3621 or [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!