FLOWERY BRANCH - As much as he likes to talk, Jimmy Williams stops short of declaring himself a starting cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons.
Not just yet.
"I just want to play," Williams said Sunday. "Whether it be a gunner, punt return or kickoff return, I just want to hit somebody. I've been working, and every day I've been doing something. I'm anxious to get out there on the field and contribute."
Williams, the 37th overall pick of the NFL draft, must wait until Atlanta's mandatory mini-camp in two weeks before veterans and rookies are on the field together.
It's too early to tell if Williams will replace Jason Webster at right cornerback. Coach Jim Mora would only indicate that every starter must earn his job on the field.
"I don't want to put a label on this kid and say he's going to be our starting right corner or he's going to be in our nickel package," Mora said. "I want to see where the competition takes it, but we are certainly happy to have him."
DeAngelo Hall, a former teammate of Williams at Virginia Tech, faces no challenge at left cornerback after earning a first-team Pro Bowl slot in December.
On the Falcons' team web site Monday, Williams was listed No. 2 at right cornerback. Kevin Mathis, a nine-year veteran recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, is third string.
Chris Cash and Allen Rossum are behind Hall on the left side.
Like Williams, nobody mistakes Hall for a wallflower. Hall's confidence, however, is balanced from two years of experience and giving little ground against star receivers like Steve Smith, Terrell Owens, Joe Horn, Eric Moulds, Torry Holt or Laveranues Coles.
Another reason for Hall's self-assured personality is the $13 million in guaranteed bonuses he received after Atlanta drafted him No. 8 overall in 2004.
Williams, who thought during his senior year that he would be the first cornerback drafted, has already suffered some humiliation after falling out of the first round and watching teams take four cornerbacks ahead of him.
"I'm not going to lie to you," Williams said. "I was fairly disappointed. At the same time, I couldn't be in a better place. I couldn't have better teammates, owner, coaches or family."
A brash attitude didn't serve Williams well before the first game of his junior season. Virginia Tech was preparing to face Southern California in the opener when Williams predicted the Hokies would shut down the Trojans' passing attack.
The comments irritated Frank Beamer enough that the Virginia Tech coach prohibited Williams from talking to reporters for the rest of the year.
"It was just a learning experience, and I'm glad it happened because I wouldn't be here if it didn't," Williams said.
"I definitely wouldn't be here talking to y'all or know how to talk to all of you now. I need you all just as much as you need me."
Williams wasn't sure that overconfidence contributed to his drop in the draft. He just knew that three teams with picks in the top nine - the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions - kept calling him. The Miami Dolphins, who were 16th, also stayed in touch.
"It's always been difficult for me to get my dues or earn respect," Williams said. "I kind of like it that way. That's me. It pushes me to become a better player, so I'm going to use it to my advantage."
The Falcons have no plans to use the 6-foot-2, 213-pound Williams at safety. The native of Hampton, Va., didn't become a cornerback at Virginia Tech until his junior year.
"We watched tape of all the corners in the country, and when you challenge him, you aren't going to run his edge," said Phil Emery, Atlanta's director of college scouting. "When a running back comes up his alley, he's making a play. So we feel very fortunate to have him."