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Mario's journey continues in Hawaii


Defensive end Mario Williams is enjoying learning from Pro Bowlers like Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.

HONOLULU- Mario Williams is the feel-good story of the 2009 Pro Bowl.

After getting caught in the crossfire of the 2006 NFL Draft debate, Williams received some second-guesses after a rookie season that was slowed by a foot injury.

The criticism must have stung the former No. 1 pick, but Williams never let it affect his work ethic. In 2007, he finished with 14.0 sacks and 59 tackles to quiet the naysayers and establish himself as one of the best all-around defensive ends in football.

Yet he still entered the offseason unsatisfied after he was snubbed from the Pro Bowl despite finishing second in the AFC in sacks.

His redemption came this past year, where he raised his play a step further by collecting 53 tackles, 12 sacks and four forced fumbles to become a Pro Bowl starter.

Williams doesn't spend much time dwelling on the past, but his Pro Bowl teammates understand the adversity that Williams endured and admire how far he's come.

"I've gotten 'congratulations' a lot and (that) I should've been here earlier and things like that," Williams said. "So it's good to hear stuff like that from your peers."

{QUOTE}Wide receiver Andre Johnson is one of Williams' biggest fans. He has been since the get-go.

"You're always going to go through adversity when you're the first pick," Johnson said. "Everyone had their own opinion about who we should've drafted. I think we picked the right guy. He's showed that. Every year he's gotten better as a player, he's grown as a player and he's going to continue to get better."

Rarely does Williams reveal how much the negativity early in his career affected him. Perhaps it served as a motivating factor.

What is clear, though, is that Williams' support system of teammates and coaches has impacted his career greatly. Williams made a point to fly the entire defensive line to Hawaii, as well defensive coordinator Frank Bush and former teammate N.D. Kalu, a veteran that mentored Williams.

"It was really important for me to bring my guys out here that helped me get here," Williams said. "So the biggest thing was getting them out here and some of my coaches and getting them around the atmosphere and letting them see what it's about."

Williams says that he likely would not be in Hawaii without the help of players like defensive tackles Travis Johnson, DelJuan Robinson and Amobi Okoye.

"They've meant a lot, just having someone to back you up and someone always there for you," he said. "So without those guys, I probably wouldn't be here."

Williams feels at ease among the best players in the NFL. On Friday, he played a practical joke on one of his teammates, who took a sip from a water bottle only to have the ice water spill on his face because Williams had loosened the cap.

This is a side of Williams that few people see. He doesn't have to worry about living up to the expectations of his draft position anymore. The only thing on his mind is enjoying the week and sharing the company of his AFC teammates.

Johnson hopes that Williams uses the Pro Bowl as a steppingstone to even better things.

"This is a great accomplishment," Johnson said. "Hopefully, he can see what he's accomplished and wants to get back and perform the way that he's been performing. So I don't think there's any pressure on him. I just think that he has to keep playing the way that he's been playing."

Teaming with players like Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney can only help Williams, who is using this week as a learning experience as much as a vacation.

"It's been a good experience just to be able to come out and meet these guys just to see how they play, how they prepare and get a feel for different (playing) styles and different ways (of working)," Williams said.

"Everybody is cool out here. I've always known about these guys but never really met them. I know most their faces. But everyone is a great guy out here and it's a good atmosphere to be in."

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