Eight minutes. That’s how long Detroit Lions first-round pick Jameson Williams could go without a football in his hands during practice on Saturday. Eight minutes.
He had tossed a ball to assistant head coach Duce Staley at 9:54 a.m., about 84 minutes into practice, before chatting up team equiptment manager Tim O’Neill, then receivers coach Antwaan Randle-El in the back of the end zone as special-teams drills unfolded in front of him. It was the first time he didn’t have a ball in his hands all day. It didn’t last long.
At 10:02 a.m., he strolled over to a bag of footballs, picked one out to his liking, then jogged over to DJ Chark, that ball tucked under his left arm as he looked over a call sheet in his right. And that ball never left his hands again. Not even when he finally left the field 26 minutes after the final whistle.
This was Williams’ day, just the like the day before it and the day before that. He can’t practice, but to see him bounce from Chark to Josh Reynolds to Trinity Benson and even kicker Riley Patterson, from Randle-El to assistant receivers coach Sean Ryan to even team equipment manager Tim O’Neill, to see him go bug Ben Johnson while the offensive coordinator is in the middle of trying to call plays, to see him bounce from one side of the field to the other and back again, all while holding a ball in one of those hands, a playsheet in the other, chatting up anything with a pulse, it’s clear the kid is as engaged as any inactive player could ever be.
“He’s putting in the work, and I think he kind of knows it and feels it,” head coach Dan Campbell said. “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.”
Big things are expected of Williams, and nothing will help him prepare like live reps. Can’t replicate that no matter how hard you try. There’s still no timetable in sight for his return either, so it remains impossible to say when the speedy receiver out of Alabama -- who was clocked running faster last year than any player in the NFL -- will finally get a chance to cut it loose on Sunday.
But it’s clear he’s doing everything he can control in the interim, including talking to anyone willing to listen, whether he’s a receiver or a kicker or the guy who fixes the helmets, head coach, assistant position coach, whatever.
“I think that’s the biggest part is keeping him involved, especially with him not being able to be out there right now with us,” Reynolds said. “You start feeling lonely. You can start feeling not part of the team, so it’s important to keep him involved and going.”
Chark seems to have taken the kid under his wing, a fellow speedy first-round pick out of the SEC who knows a thing or two about coming back from injury in the NFL. Chark has had frequent conversations with the rookie during and after practices this week.
“When you’re on the side watching, sometimes those days become longer than what they usually are, so just keeping him engaged, keeping it light-hearted,” Chark said. “I know he’s putting in his own individual work to get back, and I know he’s excited. So I’m just here so that when he is back he can jump right in and keep it pushing. I think he’s going to help us a lot, but the biggest thing is being a teammate, being a brother at this point.”
It remains unclear where Williams is at in his recovery from the ACL, which he tore in the national championship game in January. Campbell declined to elaborate before practice on Saturday, and said there is no timetable for his return. But safe to say when that day comes, Williams will be as ready as any rookie can be.
“He’s had four really good days here of rehab since we’ve started,” Campbell said. “Those are the things that’s like, ‘OK, that really excites us,’ because he’s putting in the work.”