Rookie running back Ryan Williams (34) discusses a play with teammate LaRod Stephens-Howling during training camp in August.
On a day in which Beanie Wells sported a t-shirt proclaiming himself a "Marked Man" and talked about the swollen right knee that leaves his status this week in doubt, the man who was supposed to be Wells' running back sidekick was just happy to be at the Cards' Tempe facility.
Ryan Williams walked through the locker room looking like any other player. The rookie certainly doesn't look – or limp – like he had surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon in late August.
He is "sort of" ahead of schedule, although he allows there isn't really a schedule for his rehab. The goal is for him to return by minicamp in early May. And he admits he was worried he'd be cut after getting hurt.
It's an odd sentiment, given his second-round status in April. Williams was never going anywhere. But he insists he was "scared, very scared" of being released even though he felt he had played well in camp and in his brief preseason work – which he had.
"That was one of the first questions I asked when I was in the training room (at Lambeau Field after the injury)," Williams said. "You never know. With the whole lockout thing, everything was crazy … I didn't know what could be going on. You hear stories of guys getting cut no matter what round they were (drafted) in.
"I absolutely love this coaching staff, love this organization, regardless of what we are going through right now, regardless of our record, I don't want to go anywhere else."
It was an illogical fear, but Williams seems to look at things slightly more skewed than most. Once, he wanted to be the best running back ever to play in the NFL (he loves Walter Payton, the reason his Twitter handle is @lilsweetness34) but no longer does -- not because he doesn't want to be great but because teams don't use running backs the same, with most choosing to use a two-back system. His revamped goal, he said, is to be an "irreplaceable factor."
He tries to see his injury as a blessing, one that allowed Alfonso Smith to get a chance in the NFL, and Chester Taylor a landing spot when he was released in Chicago.
Knowing Williams is needed right now makes it anything but a blessing for the Cardinals. Wells said Monday his knee was swollen and he didn't know what that meant for the next game in Baltimore Sunday. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Wells would be monitored and tried to take the glass half-full approach, noting that there was a fear Wells was done for the season when he first came to the sideline.
Having Williams now would make any Wells ding easier to digest. Instead, Williams does what he can, which just last week meant the start of upper body weight lifting, many sessions of rehab, and little else.
(It's been a rough year injury-wise for all the running backs on the Cards' roster to start camp; it was announced Monday that Tim Hightower – traded to the Redskins to create playing time for Williams – tore his anterior cruciate ligament Sunday and is done for the season.)
It eats at Williams he can't help. While he is in good spirits and comes to the facility often and sees his teammates – he praised the support he has gotten – he said it is still hard coping with the injury. He left Virginia Tech with many questioning his durability after dealing with hamstring issues and he knew he had a lot to prove.
Besides, football "is all I know and the only thing I ever wanted to do," Williams said. "Without it being in my life, every day is something that is a struggle, see guys going out to practice or doing something as a team and I can't do it. I have to use that as fuel to get back."
It won't be for months. The Cardinals press on, looking to snap a five-game losing streak, without him.
"Guys have told me, 'We needed you out there,' " Williams said. "But, you know, it's not the end."