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  • Kyle Meinke

Everything we know about Jameson Williams' timeline to return to Detroit Lions

With the Detroit Lions set to open the season in exactly one month, there is a big question facing this team.

When will prized receiver Jameson Williams finally suit up in Honolulu blue?

The Lions have declined to offer a public timeline, although it won’t happen when the Philadelphia Eagles come to town for the opener on Sept. 11, that’s for sure. ESPN reported as much on Thursday, but we’ve known that for a while. He is not expected to play in Septmeber at all, and even October could be optimistic.

“Until we really get him out there on the grass and doing some serious cuts and moving and then seeing how he reacts to it, it’ll be hard for me to say (a timeline) right now,” head coach Dan Campbell told MLive.

Williams is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered while playing for Alabama in the national championship game in January. That dented his draft stock, although the Lions still believed he was WR1 and spent a lot of time in the days leading up to the draft plotting how to go get him. That included general manager Brad Holmes making a phone call across the division to Minnesota.

Once the Vikings were on the clock at 12th overall, and Williams was still available, Holmes pulled the trigger on one of the most aggressive first-round trades in club history. Detroit sent Picks 32, 34 and 66 to Minnesota in exchange for the rights to draft Williams 12th overall, plus the 46th pick.

Then Holmes pounded his table so hard that a binder went flying to the ground.

“This guy’s gritty,” Holmes said a few minutes after making the pick. “He’s a dog. He loves football. He just fit what we’re about. Once the conviction and the buy-in kept rising, then I started saying, ‘OK, all right, maybe being that’s one of those guys that we had graded similarly, very evenly up at the top. Let’s go get him.’”

Receivers coach Antwaan Randle El crashed the war room a moment later, clearly thrilled to add the fastest man in the draft -- perhaps even the fastest man in the NFL -- to his unit.

“He was the top (receiver) for me,” Randle El said. “I know you think about injuries and stuff like that. You figure, hey, he’ll get over that for sure. Being in the training room and all the rehab that needs to get done, and then he’ll be ready to go. So definitely excited to have him.”

When Williams will be ready to go remains to be seen. He’s spent the duration of training camp on the non-football injury list, and could open the season on NFI too. That would force him to miss at least the first four games of the season, which would push his debut until at least the Week 5 game in New England against the Patriots. Although with the bye looming the following week, Detroit could opt to get Williams two more weeks of rest for the price of one, pushing his return to the Week 7 game in Dallas against the Cowboys.

That game is Oct. 23. And unless Williams really is ready to go against New England on Oct. 9, it might be the most optimistic return date possible.

The good news is Williams is still at every practice, and remaining as involved as you’ll ever see from an injured player.He often has a call sheet in one hand, almost always a football in the other, and spends a lot of time picking the brain of coaches like Randle El, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and assistant receivers coach Seth Ryan, plus players like veteran receiver DJ Chark.

Nothing replaces live reps, and Williams will still need plenty of those to get comfortable in the offense and develop chemistry with quarterback Jared Goff. But until then, his commitment to the mental reps could help expedite his return once he does get the green light to lace up his cleats and fly around Allen Park.

“He’s putting in the work, and I think he kind of knows it and feels it,” Campbell said recently. “The football side of it, man, he’s very much engaged. He’s putting himself in that position, ‘OK, I’m the Z here. I’m breaking the huddle, this is where I line up, this is my split, this is my route.’ You know (Randle) El and Seth are constantly quizzing him on it. But he’s on it, he loves that part of it. And obviously you see he loves having that ball in his hands.”

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