RENTON — Jesse Williams is feeling good these days. So good, in fact, that the Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle estimates that he, and more importantly his knees, haven’t felt this good since he was playing junior college football before he went to Alabama.
So it sounds about right when Williams describes Seattle’s offseason workouts, which concluded with the three-day minicamp that wrapped up Thursday, as a “Welcome back party for my legs.”
Williams came to Seattle as a big-time talent who was also a health risk thanks to knee problems stemming from his time at Alabama. He was a standout on one of the country’s top defenses, yet despite many projections that pegged him as a late-first or second-round pick, Williams lasted until the final day of the 2013 draft, finally landing with the Seahawks in the fifth-round.
The Seahawks, like every team, knew Williams had a high risk-reward factor, so while they hoped he might be able to win the starting defensive tackle job that ended up going to Tony McDaniel, they also knew the other end of the spectrum was possible, and it became a reality when Williams landed on injured reserve before his rookie season ever began.
Williams is almost 20 pounds lighter than he was when he joined the Seahawks, he moves unusually well for a man checking in at roughly 315 pounds, and once again the Seahawks are hoping for big things for the big Australian.
And while optimism is the norm for football teams this time of year, Williams’ progress is notable considering Carroll admitted that the team wasn’t sure they’d ever see Williams in a Seahawks uniform again.
“I really thought that maybe Jesse was done — we didn’t know coming out of last season,” Carroll said. “He had a tremendous offseason, his rehab work was great, he worked every day, and he’s ready to get in the middle of it. To bring that guy back to us at full speed could be really a great addition.”
Carroll and other Seahawks coaches have frequently used the term “redshirt” to describe players like Williams, Jordan Hill, Greg Scruggs, Korey Toomer and Tharold Simon, who can give the Seahawks an injection of talent on defense after missing most or all of last season with injuries. In the case of Williams in particular, the Seahawks could be adding a very good player, but they also need to see how things go in training camp. Certainly Williams’ ability to take part in all of organized team activities and minicamp is encouraging, but he still has a ways to go to show that the knee problems are behind him.
“We’re anxious to see how he handles camp, and we’ll make sure he does handle it well. We’re not going to over-do it with him until we really understand how far back he is,” Carroll said. “Managing Jesse will be really important in the first month or so that we’re back, and we’ll see how he handles it, but he should be right in the middle of the competition.”
Williams struggled at this time last year, having had arthroscopic surgery on his knee following Alabama’s appearance in the national championship game. He rushed to get back for the combine, then tried to push through offseason workouts and training camp, and in the end he had to be shut down.
“I was (affected by the knee last year) a lot, to be honest,” Williams said. “I tried to tough it out as much as I could. Watching back on film and stuff, even from rookie minicamp to now, getting off the ball, pushing off my leg, it’s night and day for me to see … It’s a lot easier.”
Williams went back to Australia to have Orthokine injections in his knee — a treatment not approved by the FDA for use in the United States — then rehabbed at home before rejoining the Seahawks late in the season. Being around the team for a Super Bowl run that he couldn’t contribute to and going to New York with his teammates was something of a bittersweet experience for Williams.
“It was really tough for me,” Williams said. “It was a bit of a dagger. Being a competitor, and coming off two pretty good seasons at Alabama, then having a blow like that. Mentally it was tough at the start, but I tried to take it as positives as I can. I had my iPad with me, I was in meetings and stuff like that. Going to the Super Bowl and traveling with the team, being left out, being on the outskirts of everything, it sort of pushed me even more to get ready and come back this season stronger.
“Like I told the guys, hopefully that Super Bowl trip was a practice run for next time.”
The Seahawks received their Super Bowl rings Thursday night, the latest (and likely flashiest) reward yet from their championship season.
“To think about last year and the experience we had going to the Super Bowl and winning that game, it doesn’t get any better,” Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said. “Earl and I talked at the White House when we were there, and one of the things we discussed — as everybody was talking — we were in the corner just talking about what it feels like to win, what it feels like to go to the White House. I think tonight when we get that ring and put that heavy ring on our finger and realize we actually won Super Bowl XLVIII, it makes you want to do it again. That’s the itch that we have — how can we do it again and how can we do it that much better?”
Carroll said that all four players coming back from surgeries — LB Bruce Irvin (hip), S Kam Chancellor (hip), WR Sidney Rice (knee) and LB Malcolm Smith (ankle) — have a chance to be back for the start of training camp, though he did acknowledge that Irvin, whose surgery was earlier this month would be, “up against it a little bit” trying to be back that soon.
The rest of the players held out of this week’s minicamp or limited by injuries are expected to be fine by the time camp starts in late July.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.