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Nobody around Tampa Bay seems to remember that Mike Williams was the Buccaneers' fourth-round draft pick in April.

Now he's simply the team's go-to wide receiver, their unquestioned No. 1.

The smiley 23-year-old from Buffalo's Riverside High has racked up impressive statistics through the NFL preseason (seven catches for 157 yards), using his "length" to win balls, his coaches say, and benefiting from a standout work ethic.

Williams, who left the Syracuse University football team at midseason last year, immediately impressed his new club and shed his past faster than he's eluded NFL cornerbacks. And making the pro game look easy hasn't altered Williams' focus.

"I don't know if Mike Williams realizes he's our stud at receiver right now out there, and he's supposed to go catch the ball the way he's doing," Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris said. "I think he's just having fun and playing the game and really remaining humble. And really having a great sense of urgency to go practice every day.

"It's just a nice, refreshing feel for the young man. I just think for us as an organization, you can't ask for better quality than what he's given us after he's had a little success."

Williams says he's trying to shrug off the expectations of fans who view him as an offensive savior for the Buccaneers, who finished 3-13 in 2009.

"They drafted me here to play football and to be a good guy off the field, and that's what I try to do," Williams said. "Just block everything else out and get those two things done. I want to stay under the radar. I'd rather nobody know who I am and let me keep playing the way I'm playing."

Living alone and regularly communicating with one of his football mentors, his mother, Williams says he's been able to stay riveted to his simple goals.

The advice delivered by mom, Mary Rosenthal, is all business, he said. "She tells me, 'you're coming up on your hook routes, so I know what you're running.' She'll be on me about conditioning and running extra routes to keep from getting tired."

A former aspiring high school football player, Rosenthal sequestered Williams from his football-playing peers for five years during his youth. Williams said he was permitted to play backyard ball only at home with mom schooling him in the fundamentals until he turned 10, and then "she finally let me perform on the streets."

Those years as a student of the game in a controlled environment is what the Bucs' rookie standout is now working to re-create in Tampa. He credits Buccaneers' 14-year veteran cornerback Ronde Barber for inspiring him to make the most of his time, in addition to teaching him nuances of press coverages at the line of scrimmage.

"After practice I'm taking extra catches, extra routes, running routes, talking with the quarterbacks after meetings, staying up there late watching film, all the things Ronde told me got him where he's at," Williams said. "Ronde's explained how he reads routes, and I've been able to study that and apply that every day."

Perhaps the best illustration of how Williams has impressed since arriving in Tampa is the flow of questions to his head coach about Arrelious Benn, the wide receiver the Bucs selected in the second round of the draft -- 62 positions before Williams, whose draft stock plummeted after he abruptly left Syracuse.

Many loudly wondered what's wrong with Benn, who is slotted as a backup receiver and a special teams player when the Bucs open the season against Cleveland on Sunday.

Yet again, Morris laughed off a Benn question following the Bucs' third preseason game against the Jaguars, in which Williams hauled in three receptions for 83 yards.

"The unfair part is that Arrelious is being compared to Mike," Morris said, adding that Benn is progressing well for a rookie.

The start of the regular season will have Williams compared not to rookies but to his fellow No. 1 receivers across the NFL, a fraternity he always believed he could join.

"It's like a dream come true," Williams said. "Since I got here I've been doing things the way I wanted to, step by step, and they're all working out as planned. I'm right where I felt I could be."