BOURBONNAIS -- Chris Williams is the smallest player on the field, but he's one of the easiest to notice because the 5-foot-8, 175-pound wide receiver is arguably the quickest and the fastest man in Bears camp.
Williams' lack of size may be an issue for some, but not for him.
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"I've never been the biggest guy in the world," he said, "so I've had to do other things to compete, and I feel like I do them well."
At his pro day at New Mexico State in 2009, Williams ran a 4.28 40-yard dash but still got off to a slow start as a professional. He spent part of 2009 on the Cleveland Browns' practice squad, then headed north to the Canadian Football League but didn't progress past the Hamilton Tiger-Cats practice squad.
Williams' career took off the next year when he was the CFL's offensive rookie of the year, catching 70 passes for 1,064 yards for the Ti-Cats. In 2012 he caught 83 passes for 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns and also returned 5 punts for touchdowns.
Last year he spent time on the New Orleans Saints' practice squad before the Bears signed him to the 53-man roster in the final week of the season.
Now, at 26, Williams believes his combined experiences give him the best chance yet to realize his NFL dreams. That opportunity means more to him than the chance to keep putting up big numbers in Canada.
"As a little kid growing up, you always dream about playing in the NFL," he said. "My first stint was hampered by injury, and I didn't want that to be the reason I didn't make it.
"It's something that I had to prove to myself, and I'm definitely more comfortable with my game now, so it's time to put my best foot forward and show them I've got what it takes."
Williams was able to observe Bears coach Marc Trestman's success with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes firsthand, one of several reasons he felt a comfort level. The Bears also offered job openings at returner and backup wide receiver.
"They wanted me, and that's big," he said. "When you get a team that wants you to come in and help them, and the things that they showed me and the things that they did for me, that makes a big difference."
During Sunday's first training-camp practice in full pads, Williams got the most work of any of the contenders for the punt-return job that's vacant after the departure of Devin Hester, the NFL's all-time leader in kick-return touchdowns.
It only takes one return to notice the instant acceleration that makes Williams a constant threat to go the distance.
"The guy can really run, obviously; that's pretty basic," said Joe DeCamillis, Bears special-teams coach. "He's got experience catching balls. Even though it was in Canada, it was in gamelike situations at a professional level.
"That beats a rookie in my opinion."
But to become Hester's successor, Williams has to set himself apart from a crowded field that also includes veterans Eric Weems, Armanti Edwards and Micheal Spurlock.
Williams also is opening eyes as a receiver, making at least 1 reception each day behind defensive backs who have struggled to keep up with him. With roster spots at a premium, return specialists who show the ability to contribute at other positions have an advantage.
"I've been fortunate in my life to play both positions very well in multiple different settings, whether it be college or in the CFL," Williams said. "I'm comfortable receiving or returning or both."
Among the backup wideouts, 2013 seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson and veteran Josh Morgan are the early leaders for the No. 3 and No. 4 spots behind Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. But Williams is a serious contender, especially because no other receiver on the roster can match his speed and quickness.
"Chris has done a good job as a receiver in practice," Trestman said. "He catches the ball well, he's got strong hands, and he finds ways to get open. He's made the most of his opportunities when the ball's been thrown to him.
"We'll have to see how that progresses. He's in a competition not just to be a returner here but to be a receiver as well. When he has gotten opportunities, he's made the best of them."
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