He missed the last 10 games of the season with a knee injury that wasn't improving despite his best rehabilitation efforts. As much as Kyle Williams' play was missed on the field, it was his leadership that was perhaps the biggest loss for Buffalo's defense. Now on the road to recovery post-surgery, Williams' desire to return to a playing level that helped him put together three straight Pro Bowl seasons from 2012 to 2014 is as strong as ever. And it's accompanied by a belief in Rex Ryan's defensive scheme that is unwavering.
"We played in a very similar defense to this a few years ago with Mike Pettine. I've seen the track record of Rex's defenses over multiple years," said Williams. "Playing them with the Jets knowing when we went to New York as a defensive player we knew we had to play well defensively ourselves knowing how much Rex's defense would hold our team down. I've seen it work. I know that it works. I believe in Rex. I believe in D.T. (Dennis Thurman) and I believe in our staff and our players. We've got guys who can really make anything happen."
What bothers Williams most is what didn't happen in 2015. Whether it was seeing his season cut short or the team falling short of expectations, all of it ate at him.
"Personally disappointed and team-wise disappointed in the way that it all shook out," he said. "Kind of a helpless feeling knowing you can help from a leadership standpoint in the locker room and from a playing standpoint on the field. All I want to do is play. I love to play the game. I love my teammates. I love representing our organization. It's tough when you have it taken away from you against your will."
Williams knee injury, suffered in Week 6 against Cincinnati, proved to be a costly loss. Buffalo's defense had already lost Aaron Williams to what proved to be a season-ending neck injury. And Kyle Williams, largely seen as the emotional leader on defense soon followed. The pair proved to be too big a leadership void to fill.
"We talked about trying to work through some things and working hard together. I really felt like we were gaining some traction on what we were trying to do. We had some growing pains team-wise and it's something you work through," said Williams. "Then I got hurt."
Buffalo's longest tenured player tried to maintain a presence around his teammates, but when you're working to get back on the field, you're not always traveling in the same circles as the players who are healthy and available.
"I was still in the meeting room and I was helping guys break down film, but you're literally removed from the locker room because you're spending your free time in the training room rehabbing," he said. "And the biggest part is you're removed from the practice field. There's a lot of communication that goes on on the practice field. Especially on our D-line with me and Marcell and Jerry and Mario. We'd be like, 'Hey what are you looking at? What about this guy? How are we going to play that?' So there are a lot of things that you're kind of removed from when you're hurt and can't play. That's what bothered me the most. I felt I could've helped a lot there."
When the season was heading in the wrong direction down the stretch, Williams stood in front of the defensive unit and appealed to them to leave any desire for personal gain at the door.
"I talked about it with our defense and told them we have to get to a point where when we walk through that door we die for ourselves and live for our team," said Williams. "We all just have to do our job because 10 other guys rely on me to do my job when we hit the field. When I pass rush I have to rush as hard and fast as I possibly can because I don't want Stephon or Darby or Aaron or Corey to have to cover for four or five seconds. Or when we get a tackle over or some adjustments from offensive lines I don't want to miss an alignment because if I do we have a 330-pound guy running up on one of our linebackers. I don't want that linebacker to feel like, Kyle stuck it to me on that one. That's what has to matter to us, kind of a foxhole mentality.
"I told them no matter how things unfold (prior to Philly game) I said if it doesn't work that's one thing we really have to focus on this offseason. We have to focus when we get here to work that it's about us and laying your selfish feelings aside and do what's best for the greater good of this team. When we get more guys who can say I'm going to do everything I can do to make this defense work and our team work, that's when we'll be on the ascent."
Williams is ahead of schedule with his rehab from knee surgery. He feels he has plenty of good game days left to give. The challenge will be if the collective effort of the team can meet that of Williams, who is desperate to reach the postseason.
"The main thing is recovering and I'm doing really, really well," he said. "Getting strong and explosive again because whether I like to admit it or not I'm getting up there for playing in the league. I don't have a lot of time left and I want to take advantage of every second of every opportunity I get to play. I want to do everything I can to make this a winning football team and a winning football organization. I want it to be on my watch, not while I'm watching."