You start with his health. There have been two Achilles repairs, an elbow fix, and assorted other places that have required medical attention. Nine NFL seasons of fierce collisions in the middle of the defensive line will take a toll on your body, and Kyle Williams has the scars to prove it.
For the first time in many offseasons, however, none of them is fresh.
“This is the first offseason I haven’t had surgery in a number of years,” Williams said. “I didn’t have any procedures this year.”
The Buffalo Bills’ defensive lineman has plenty of reason to be proud of that, because his entire career has been about overcoming obstacles (a fifth-round draft pick who was thought to be too short and not fast enough to succeed in the NFL) and overachieving (four Pro Bowl appearances).
Williams, 31, came close to having yet another encounter with a surgeon’s knife last season when he suffered a knee injury. He was expected to miss at least four games, but wound up sitting out only one on the way to a third consecutive Pro Bowl.
Now, with the Bills wrapping up offseason workouts last Thursday and going on hiatus until training camp opens on July 31, Williams is feeling as fresh and enthusiastic as he has in a long time.
He’s firmly plugged into the overwhelming sense of excitement that has enveloped the team and its fans since the arrival of Rex Ryan. He loves Ryan’s aggressive, attacking defensive scheme. He loves the massive investment the club made to try to get better, especially on offense. And he loves that, for a 10th season, he’ll be an integral part of their efforts to finally reach the playoffs.
“My arrow’s pointing up in all directions,” Williams said. “I’m excited about it. I’m excited about the year and everything that’s in front of us.”
That’s been apparent to everyone who has been around Williams the past few months. Karl Dunbar, the Bills’ new defensive line coach who coached Williams and recruited him to LSU, is impressed with the attitude he has displayed in what for a long-time veteran can be a fairly mundane routine.
No pads can worn during OTA and minicamp practices. No hitting is supposed to be done. For the most part, it’s a classroom setting on the field, with coaches providing players with instructions on minutia such as footwork and hand placement and communicating with each other.
Williams has been through this a million times. He also has had exposure to the Ryan defense, which is dramatically different than the one the Bills used when Jim Schwartz was their coordinator but similar to the one that Ryan coaching disciple Mike Pettine employed when he ran Buffalo’s defense.
Yet, Williams was fully attentive and engaged through all phases of the Bills’ offseason workouts, which ended with the mandatory minicamp that ran from last Tuesday to Thursday.
“You love it, because he’s what? Thirty-one years old?” Dunbar said. “And he still has that fire and that passion for the game. And he does a great job of keeping his body in shape.
“Everybody talked about him” coming out of LSU “being a ‘limited athlete.’ He was too short, not fast enough, not big enough. And he’s played 10 years in this league and at a high level these last couple of years, so we’re just looking for the same thing coming back this year.
“I don’t see any letdown. And I think, with the infusion of Marcell” Dareus “and Jerry” Hughes “and some younger guys that we have, it keeps him young, too.”
So does playing in Ryan’s scheme.
There will be plenty of movement of players within the defensive front, which will cause Williams to shift back and forth from the interior of the line to the outside depending on what’s called.
“I think we’re going to be able to have a good mix of being able to say, ‘OK, we’ve got talented guys, we’re going to put them out there and just let them know what to do and say, ‘Hey, you’re going to have to block our talented guys,’” Williams said. “And then we’re going to have defenses and looks where you can disguise and confuse. I think it’s a really good combination for the type of players that we have.”
The Bills’ pass rush was strong in 2013, just as it was last year. It figures to be every bit as effective this season.
The problem when the Bills previously ran a version of the Ryan scheme was that they struggled against the run while selling out so heavily to get to the passer. They improved dramatically in that area in 2014, when they switched from primarily a 3-4 base to a 4-3 look.
But Williams doesn’t think reverting back to more of a 3-4 defense will compromise the Bills’ run-stuffing ability.
“I think that what we saw last year is if we can eliminate mental errors, we can stop the run, and we can do just about anything that we want to,” he said. “Two years ago, our big problem was the big play. Somebody’s in the wrong position, somebody doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing, we gave up the big play on the ground.
“Until the last game” of 2013, a 34-20 loss “against New England, none of it was really a slow death; it was kind of a grind-it-out. So we’re hoping to eliminate those, everybody knows where they’re going, where to line up, because like I said, we have good enough players where we can line up and we can stop people.”
The Bills ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense last season. Ryan has vowed that they will be the league’s top-ranked defense this year.
Williams isn’t all that concerned about the numbers. He simply wants to be part of a unit that does what it’s expected to do – dominate opponents.
“If we can have a dominant defense, if we can get better than where we were last year, it’s only going to help the collective,” Williams said. “It’s only going to help our team win more games. It’s only going to help our offense have the ball more. It’s important that we’re really, really good on defense.
“As far as the number, I don’t know that I really have that high on my priority list yet. But it’s playing dominant defense, getting turnovers, creating negative plays, sacks, fumbles, interceptions, and getting our offense the ball and winning football games.”
Going through his first NFL offseason in many years without any fresh battle scars, that’s all that matters to Williams.