The Cincinnati Bengals have no idea what kind of difference first-round draft pick Jonah Williams would have made this season and likely won’t see him in a game until next year, but they will at least get to start preparing him for whenever that time comes.
Williams, the rookie left tackle who tore his labrum in June, was cleared to resume practicing with the team Thursday. He has been on the reserve/physically unable to perform list all season but can now start practicing without counting against the 53-man roster limit and the team can activate him to the roster at any point the remainder of the season.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said last week he didn’t expect Williams to play this season but didn’t rule it out completely.
“It’s really exciting,” Williams told reporters before practice Thursday. “It’s what I’ve been working for in the rehab, in the weight room and all that stuff. I’m excited to have this opportunity. That’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a walkthrough, just being back out there with a jersey on and stuff like that. It’s exciting.”
Williams said he hasn’t been cleared for full contact yet, so he isn’t sure whether there is a chance he could play; however, he has made the most of his time on the sidelines to this point and feels prepared as far as the playbook, what is expected of the linemen and knowing how to study the opponent.
Cincinnati selected the 6-foot-4, 304-pounder out of Alabama with the 11th overall pick, and the coaching staff spent much of the offseason workout program retooling the line around him playing left tackle. Cordy Glenn was working out at left guard before Williams got hurt.
“It’s tough,” Williams said of missing time. “I was there for everything. I just wasn’t participating, you know, so I’m standing on the sidelines. I’ve been on the rehab field, able to do some drills and stuff like that the past couple of weeks, so that’s been good. But being able to actually be with the team and, you know, I’ll get to wear a helmet at practice and stuff like that. So it’s just little things that make me feel like a football player again and a part of the team.”
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Taylor said in a recent press conference that he was pleased with Williams’ progress and especially seeing the work ethic the Bengals had heard so much about before drafting him.
“(He has done) everything you hope for in the building,” Taylor said. “And work ethic, and trying to do extra — he’s done a great job.”
Even while unable to play in games, Williams still contributed to the team. Since the second week of the season, he’s been scouting the opposing defensive ends on film and providing input on their tendencies and how to block them, starting with Nick Bosa, whom he was familiar with from college.
In terms of his strength and physical well-being, the shoulder feels “really good” and Williams is close to doing what he previously could in the weight room before the injury. His goal was to be able to play this season but said it just depends on the doctors, coaches and front office how they want to manage him from here.
“It’s a mental battle for sure,” he said. “I’d never missed a start in college, never really missed any starts in high school. I was just not used to not having that light at the end of the tunnel. It kind of gets down to not being immediate gratification, kind of saying, ‘OK, well, I’m going to be here every single day. I have the same opportunity as everyone else when I go home,’ so whether that applies to this year or next year, I’m going to make the most out of that and not waste a year.”
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One of the guys Williams has been looking at this week as the Bengals prepare to host the Patriots is linebacker/defensive end Kyle Van Noy. New England is known for having a strong front seven as part of a defense that leads the league in total yards and points allowed and turnover margin.
Van Noy has a team-high 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles this season.
“He’s great,” Williams said. “Their whole defense has really talented guys. They run their scheme really well. They run a lot of twist and things with their defense upfront and I think they are really good at executing.”
Williams said he will continue doing whatever the Bengals ask of him, but he looks forward to now preparing to possibly play or at least get back to full contact.
“You have to have that confidence in yourself,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been working for, on the off chance that it’s something that could happen, that I be ready for it.”
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