NEW YORK (AP) — Disappointment and anger hit Avery Williamson in waves last season, vivid reminders that he couldn’t get out on the field and play the game he loves.
Those feelings also helped motivate the New York Jets middle linebacker through countless hours of rehabilitation to reach the point now where he’s almost all the way back.
Physically and mentally.
“It’s crazy how it happened, but at the end of day, it’s just going to eat away at you,” Williamson said during a video conference call Wednesday. “I had my moments where I was in some dark places and didn’t want to talk to anybody. But I feel like I’ve moved past it and just the fact that I’m running and stuff, and I’m able to move and I’m closer to being on the field, that’s the happiness that I want to have.
“That makes me feel good.”
The 28-year-old Williamson was entering his second season with the Jets last summer and New York was excited about him teaming with C.J Mosley as the team’s middle linebackers.
But that all changed in the second preseason game at Atlanta when Williamson was still on the field with mostly backups in the second quarter — when most projected starters are usually done for the night. With 3:52 left in the first half, cornerback Tevaughn Campbell dived to defend a pass into the end zone — and hit into Williamson’s knee.
Torn ACL. Season over for Williamson. It was a result coach Adam Gase still regrets to this day.
“It’s one that I take a lot of responsibility on,” Gase said. “You know, it’s just kind of kicking myself, thinking he should have never been on the field, this should never have happened. We should have had him for the season.”
Gase spoke to Williamson several times after the injury, and now as the linebacker works his way back to getting on the playing field.
“He focused on getting better,” Gase said. “I know he’s excited to get out there. I’m going to be extremely excited to see him going again and get to see kind of where he’s at. I just want to see him get in pads. To be able to just start playing football again. Like, that’s going to be a good day for me personally.
“I know for him it’ll be a great day.”
Gase said Williamson isn’t “too far away” from being ready to practice when teams are allowed to do so at camp. Williamson still needs to “kind of check some boxes” with the training staff before being fully cleared.
The linebacker knows that day is coming soon. It’s all he has been working toward for the past 12 months.
“Coach Gase, he definitely has told me many times that he hated that it happened,” Williamson said. “Shoot, I’m over it now. At this point, man, I’m just ready to work, just go out there and show that I’m back where I was last year and ready to take the next step to being even better than last year.”
The Jets might need him to be.
With Mosley choosing to opt out for the season because of family health concerns, Williamson should certainly be in the mix to be New York’s MIKE linebacker — the quarterback of the defense.
“He’s played that position before,” Gase said. “He’s had success in that position before. We’ll work through what’s best for us.”
Williamson spent his first four seasons in Tennessee, establishing himself as a solid tackler and playmaker before signing a three-year, $22.5 million contract with New York in 2018. Williamson showed much of the same production in his first season with the Jets while leading the team in tackles, but the knee injury last year clouded his future with the franchise.
Rumors circulated all offseason that the Jets could opt to cut Williamson — if they couldn’t trade him — and save the $6.5 million he was due to cost against the salary cap. Instead, New York kept him and it could end up being a shrewd move with Mosley not playing this year.
“You just never know in this business what can happen,” Williamson said. “You never know who you might need. It definitely was kind of crazy how it all worked out.”
Williamson is currently on the physically unable to perform list, a designation that should be only temporary as he clears his final health hurdles.
“I’m feeling good,” Williamson said with a big smile. “I’ve been feeling really good since, I’d say, probably like May or June. I just really started turning the corner, doing a lot of running and the workload has increased over the months. … As long as I’m ready for the season, which I know I will be, that’s all that matters.”
NOTES: LB James Burgess was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, joining teammates LB Ahmad Gooden and DBs Bryce Hall and Shyheim Carter. … Gase said he and GM Joe Douglas had multiple conversations with Mosley leading up to the linebacker’s decision to opt out. “Obviously, we’ll miss him this season,” Gase said before adding the Jets “do feel like we have a lot of depth at that position.”
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