Williams Could Boost D-Line in Opener
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS — He’s getting close.
Photo by Jim Davidson
When Urban Meyer mentioned last week the return of a healthy Nathan Williams would put this Ohio State defensive line on par with some of his best at Florida, it felt like a long-shot.
Williams had not participated in a full practice since undergoing microfracture surgery last year, but Tuesday Meyer made it sound much more realistic that he could have the fifth-year senior available on Saturday against Miami (Ohio).
“We’re going to try to get him in the game, but I’ll know more after today,” Meyer said during his appearance on the weekly Big Ten Football Teleconference Tuesday afternoon.
“He passed the test to get in the game yesterday, but it’s still too quick to tell you how much he’s going to play.”
Just the fact Williams is even expected to be available at all in the opener is a critical hurdle to clear for a kid who has been working tirelessly to get back on the field nearly a year after his last game in a Buckeye uniform.
“I see him working hard every day,” said teammate John Simon.
“He’s doing everything he can to get back out there. He’s practiced a couple times and looks great. It’s just a process for him. I know he’s hurting inside, but we appreciate all the effort he’s putting in every day and what he’s doing to get back on the field.”
Photo by Dan Harker
Simon is a two-time captain and an All-American candidate for the Buckeyes on the defensive line. He is considered to be one of the premier players in the Big Ten on either side of the ball, and the face of the program that Meyer inherited from Jim Tressel and Luke Fickell.
A year ago, that guy would have been Nathan Williams. He was Ohio State’s best returning player at the start of last season, and his season-ending injury following the opener against Akron might be the single most overlooked aspect of why the Buckeyes struggled so badly on defense in 2011.
“Our defensive football team and I'm sure our offensive football team has a lot of respect for Nathan and what he's done,” said Everett Withers, Ohio State’s first-year co-defensive coordinator.
“And obviously it provides another guy on the depth chart for us, but I think the leadership that he'll bring and his ability and production, I think that would provide a big lift for our football team.”
After Williams’ injury, which wasn’t immediately thought to be season-ending, the Buckeyes had to scramble to find someone on the defensive line who could handle their Leo position – a hybrid combination of a pass rushing end and an outside linebacker.
Then-defensive coordinator Jim Heacock tried a pair of youngsters in J.T. Moore and Steve Miller, but eventually he had to slide Simon over from the strongside defensive end position.
Photo by Jim Davidson
That’s where Simon will play in 2012, unless the Buckeyes are blessed with a Nathan Williams who is healthy enough to return to his pre-injury form.
“He's been up and down, trying his heart out,” Meyer said.
“Tough injury. I would hope to have him for a limited basis in the first game.”
The list of big-name athletes who never fully recovered from microfracture surgery is longer than the one on the other side. There have been some famous players who have come back as strong or stronger from the injury, but the Buckeyes won’t really know what to expect until Williams takes his first snap inside Ohio Stadium.
“I’ve seen him out there a couple times. He’s out there doing walkthrough and coming along good,” classmate Travis Howard said after practice Tuesday.
“I don’t know exactly how he’s doing, but I see him out there moving around pretty cool and running around doing walkthrough.”
The Buckeyes will likely only have one more real practice this week before they take off the pads and focus on the mental aspect of getting read for Miami. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for Williams, but the doctors certainly aren’t going to rush him back at this point in the game.
“I know he’s anxious, but they’re holding him back so he doesn’t hurt anything else,” Howard added.
“He’s kind of modified right now, but he does take part in some walkthrough things.”
Which means he’s getting close, but Saturday’s game won’t be a walkthrough, despite the 23-point spread.
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