FLOWERY BRANCH, GA — Brian Williams knew something was terribly wrong immediately. Trying to defend a pass against Chicago last season, Williams landed awkwardly on his right knee.
He knew right away he would have to sit on the sidelines for a period of time. He just didn't know how long.
Almost two weeks into training camp, Williams is still walking the sidelines, but he's close to getting back on the field. He can hardly wait, in fact. Standing on the sideline Tuesday in shoulder pads, Williams looked as ready as he has since the injury.
"It definitely feels good to even be back in uniform and even thinking about playing again," he said with a smile. "I still have a long way to go and I'm out here working every day. It definitely feels good to be back out here with my teammates and everything."
It has been a long journey to this point. There were a lot of painful days, a lot of days full of doubt and, finally, a lot of days filled with the hope of seeing some action again.
For Williams, who had never spent any time on injured reserved, the pain of sitting out nearly compared to the pain of rehabbing his knee. But he didn't wait long to get to work on getting back into shape.
"Right when I hurt it, I worked on it immediately," Williams said. "I think that helped a lot coming out of the surgery. I just kept working it away. We switched up training staffs over the offseason and I think both guys did a good job at getting me ready to play."
The nine-year veteran is only days away from being cleared to return to practice at 100 percent. Wearing a bulky black knee brace under his practice pants, Williams will be thrown right into the mix at a very crowded cornerback position.
Cornerbacks Brent Grimes, Christopher Owens and rookie Dominique Franks have been practicing since the start of camp, battling to see who will earn the right to start opposite Dunta Robinson for the first game of the regular season at Pittsburgh.
"I think Brian adds a lot of experience. He understands our defense. He's played in it for six or seven years," head coach Mike Smith said. "Probably the biggest value that Brian gives our team, is he's a guy that can play all defensive back positions. He can play left or right corner. He started as our nickel last year and he has played a number of games in his career at the safety position.
"Brian will be very valuable in our depths in terms of how we want to try to put our roster together because he is crossed trained in all of those positions."
His versatility is an obvious attribute on the field, but the injury couldn't keep him from contributing with his other big strength: leadership.
Williams has been at every practice, watching the cornerback battle unfold closely. While he will be competing for the position when he gets back in the field later this week, Williams has been doing everything he can to help out the players in front of him.
"He's an extremely knowledgeable veteran," Grimes said. "He knows a whole lot of ins and outs of the game and he can help us. Even when he's not playing, as far as asking him questions and things like that, he can help us. He means a lot to the secondary and we can't wait to have him back."
The only question that remains at this point is: Can Williams fight from behind to earn back the starting spot he lost due to the injury?
Williams already has an answer to that question.
"I don't feel behind. I'm doing my stuff along the side. This is my ninth season so I have that to my advantage, but I don't feel behind at all," he said. "I just need to take care of my knee and when I'm ready to go, be ready to go."