Bills fans remember Aaron Williams lying motionless on his back out of bounds after making a diving tackle of Patriots WR Julian Edelman in Week 2 and being immobilized a short time later on a backboard and driven to a local hospital by ambulance. Three weeks later he was back on the field in Tennessee, but his first hit in the game told him something wasn't right.
Williams missed a few plays and returned to the game. After making a tackle on a play in the second half, the Bills safety was seen shaking out his left arm and soon left the game for good. Williams hasn't seen the practice field since that time until Thursday when he participated on a non-contact basis.
"This morning, I got the green light," said Williams. "I've never been so excited to practice. Being gone from the game for so long, you get that urge, that itch to get back out there. It just felt good."
After taking part in his first practice since Week 5, Williams revealed his arm was numb late in that game against Tennessee.
"It was definitely tingling. It was definitely to where it was numb," Williams said. "I had a numb feeling about all of the second half, but I played with numbness before. It wasn't something I was really concerned about. At the same time, they were looking out for my health. I just want to play. That's all it really came down to. At the same time, I started looking out for my health more than anything else."
The two injuries in close succession led to a full evaluation and after letting his body calm down for a couple of weeks it was determined that Williams needed neck surgery. In addition Williams was informed of the real possibility that his future playing career could be in doubt.
"Right before my procedure, that was when I knew it was 50-50 I would either come back or find another career," said Williams. "I kept a positive vibe, a positive attitude towards it. I had my family behind me -- my friends, my teammates. They all had my back. They always looked out for me, checked on me when I wasn't around. Teammates, chemistry, the relationship they all have, they all helped me get past this little injury I have."
After surgery however, Williams still grappled with the potential that his playing career might be over a lot sooner than he ever anticipated.
"It was too real, in that I had to start thinking about what I wanted to do afterwards," said Williams. "I knew I had a few things, but I didn't think it would be coming this time—this soon. I always told these guys-take advantage of it. Always fight-work hard, because you never know when this day your career ends. It can always end on one play."
Fortunately Williams, after weeks of rehabilitation, has made the strides necessary to continue his playing career. The only issue now is when the time is right to return to full contact.
"That type of injury you are going to make certain that he is 100 percent cleared and ready to go," said head coach Rex Ryan. "And not just cleared, but he's ready to go. Even if you've got to sit back and say, 'You know what, as much as we want him to play we want to make sure everything is perfect before he ever steps out there.' This is part of the process where he goes out there and does some football conditioning type things, but he's avoiding contact."
"It's a huge step," said Williams of returning to the practice field even in a limited capacity Thursday. "Coming from not feeling your whole left side, to maybe not playing the game again, being able to move the neck, then being able to work out, and then to have an opportunity to be out there on the field—it's definitely an experience I will never forget."
Ryan labeled Williams' chances of returning to game action this season at 50-50 earlier in the week. Williams however, is adamant about getting back in the lineup.
"Absolutely. I don't dress up to be dressing up," he said. "I want to go out there and contribute. I miss hearing the fans scream, I miss hearing 'The Ralph' go crazy. At this time, I'm happy where I am at right now."
Where his playing career goes from here is solely up to Williams.
"It's all about that first hit," he said. "When that first hit gets done, that's when I'll know I should continue playing this game, or it's time to move on to a new chapter."