Williams out for big year

WICHITA FALLS, Texas (AP) _ Erik Williams showed up at Dallas Cowboys training camp carrying 30 fewer pounds, his hair in dreadlocks and a giant chip on his shoulder for not making the Pro Bowl last season.

Even his teammates had to do a double-take to make sure it was the same Big E.

  Erik Williams
Erik Williams came to camp this season ready to prove that he's still a Pro-Bowl player.

"There's no doubt about it," quarterback Troy Aikman said. "He's got a different look and a different attitude. It's great."

The leaner and meaner look is the result of the offensive lineman's desire to keep the game fresh, a goal he hopes will help the Cowboys return to the glory days of his early years.

"The years are going by quickly and it would be nice to reach the top again," said Williams, who is entering his ninth season. "I think a lot of people on this team feel that way."

Williams, who plays right tackle, has been a staple on the offensive line since he joined the team. He's made the Pro Bowl three times, won three Super Bowls and returned from a potentially career-ending car accident in 1994.

Asked how he felt about his performance last year, Williams didn't mince words.

"I think I should have made the Pro Bowl," he said with a frown. "But this is a new year and everything is wide open again."

The 6-foot-6 Williams has slimmed to 305 pounds of mostly muscle. He appears trim enough to be mistaken for an oversized tight end, which he hopes will help keep up with younger players.

"It gets harder to play the older you get," Williams said. "You've got to do things that make it easier for you to go out there and perform. You've got to be hungry."

Coach Chan Gailey said the team did nothing to prompt Williams' changes.

"I look at it as, hey, this guy is very serious about this season," Gailey said. "He wanted to lose some weight and thought it would make him a better player. It wasn't a mandate from us in any way, shape or form. He just thought he'd be a better player at this weight, and we're all for it."

As for the new hairdo, Williams said it's just for fun.

"You've got to do things to keep it fresh for yourself, to keep it new," Williams said. "Half of the game is feeling mentally young. You want to be able to go out there every season like its your first season."

Williams, who will be 31 by openind day, also is taking on a father-figure role with the team's rookies. He's giving youngsters advice, and he's giving rookie defenders a harsh welcome to life in the NFL. At practice last week, Williams scuffled with sixth-round pick Peppi Zellner.

Williams said second-rounder Solomon Page could help bolster the offensive line this year. Injuries have put Page on the first team at right guard, although he's played tackle his entire career.

"He's out there every day making good plays," Williams said. "He doesn't play like a rookie."

Williams admitted the offensive line needs to improve from last year, when they struggled to stop the blitz.

"We have a lot of work to do," he said.