The Detroit Lions are determined to proceed cautiously with first-round pick Jameson Williams in his return from a torn ACL, but the speedy Alabama receiver could be medically cleared by training camp, and once he’s on the field the doctor who performed his surgery said he’s confident Williams will “get back to his normal self.”
“Jameson’s goal is to play first preseason game, obviously,” said Dr. Lyle Cain, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at the Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, Alabama. “I told him, I said, ‘Look, depending on which team you go to, most teams are probably — they’re going to be very conservative. You’ve got to understand that.’ And he’ll get talked into it, but I know he’s, in his mind said he’s going to be ready Game 1.”
Williams tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Jan. 10 during Alabama’s national championship game loss to Georgia.
He underwent reconstructive surgery less than a week later, a procedure that involved taking a piece of tissue from his patella tendon to build a new ACL.
Typically, Cain said it takes three to four months for the ligament to heal and five to nine months for the muscle “to get back in shape.” Williams suffered a clean tear of the ACL and did not rupture other ligaments in his knee, Cain said.
“There’s a wide variety of ACL injuries from pretty straight forward to very complex,” Cain said. “And his was a very straight forward one, which makes it easier for him, for sure.”
Williams said doctors initially gave him a five- to seven-month timeline for recovery, which would put him back on the field early in training camp.
He already has resumed running and is working on regaining the range of motion in his knee, and Cain said the next milestone in Williams’ rehab is to begin running routes and doing other football-related activities.
“I’m sure you saw him on draft day, he looks like nothing ever happened and he’s kind of one of those guys where he looked so good, so fast that I think the question for the medical staff of the Lions is going to be how fast to let him progress and get moving because I think the course of history in the NFL has been to be relatively conservative and slow with return for the athlete,” Cain said. “Because Jameson got hurt in January, last game possible, just like getting hurt in the NFL season, a lot of times the team will make a decision to kind of go slow in the summer and count for kind of a mid-season return. But I think for all the stuff that I’ve seen and from how he’s progressed, I think Jameson will be — he’ll be ready to go as quickly as everybody lets him go.”
The Lions traded first-, second- and third-round picks in last week’s draft to the Minnesota Vikings to move up 20 spots and take Williams with the 12th pick of the first round. The Lions also received a mid-second round pick in the deal.
Lions general manager Brad Holmes told the Free Press on Saturday that Williams was the team’s No. 1-rated receiver. The draft’s premier deep threat, Williams caught 79 passes for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns in his only season at Alabama after starting his college career at Ohio State.
Holmes said the Lions were in a unique position to take Williams because the depth of their receiving corps and long-term outlook would allow them to be cautious with Williams’ recovery.
“This was a very good class of receivers this year. Obviously, you saw how high those guys went off,” Holmes said. “But we thought he was the best receiver in this class, and you know there’s not all teams that are in a position to take a guy that might not be available right away, especially high. We just felt that we were in that unique position where, I’m not saying that we’ll be the same team without him, but when he does come about, I know what he’ll add.
“But we don’t have to rush it either. The hardest thing is trying to keep him from (playing). He was trying to get back on the field in the championship game after he tore his ACL.”
Cain said mental hurdles are often an athlete’s biggest challenge to regaining their pre-surgery form, but that Williams has had a unique approach to recovery and rehab.
Williams said at the NFL combine he watched replays of his injury numerous times because, “I was trying to see what happened.” And he spent most of the past three months rehabbing at the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, Florida, alongside another Alabama receiver recovering from ACL surgery, John Metchie.
Caid said he’s confident “Jameson will be playing for the Lions and will be productive and will be himself” this fall.
“A guy that was seen as having a really quick recovery was a guy that had surgery that we did here in Birmingham, Adrian Peterson,” Cain said. “A.P. came back and had a great year his year after surgery (running for 2,097 yards) and he came back I think around eight months. And that was considered a really quick return
“The reality is, most guys are ready before that but they may not have their confidence or they may not have had enough reps to really be comfortable in the system that they’re in. I think for Jameson, I think when he shows up to camp soon, he’s going to look like a million bucks and I think it’s just how quick it takes him to get through the progression of getting back to feeling normal.”