Counting on Williams

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nathan Williams wasn't keeping a running total in his head, so the exact number of plays had to wait.

But the senior defensive lineman knew a few things for sure about the snaps he did take in his return from microfracture knee surgery.

Williams was on the field for more plays than anybody expected Saturday in Ohio State's season-opening 56-10 win over Miami (Ohio). He was thankful for every opportunity that came his way -- and whatever the official tally was, it felt like many more after a full year on the sideline.

"It felt like I played 50," Williams joked. "Hopefully I wake up and I'm able to walk."

The jokes came easily for Williams after he capped his return with two tackles in the rout, including a critical third-down stop with the Buckeyes struggling to get going offensively in the first quarter.

Williams had to drop into coverage and close on a running back near the sideline to help the defense get off the field, and in the process he flashed the athleticism and motor that made him such a handful up front before leaving the season opener a year ago with his injured knee.

There were some signs of rust, too -- most notably a sack that slipped out of his hands on a previous drive. But as the bugs get worked out, an already deep and talented group up front appears set to be more versatile and dangerous with Williams again in the mix.

"To me, I'll be curious to see how he feels [Sunday]," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "He might have played a little more than we thought he would play, so let's see how he feels.

"We know what Nathan can do. We need Nathan, we want Nathan to be a part of this family, we want Nathan to still embrace himself in this and I want those guys to know him. He's a different person when his passion shows on the field. He can become part of the energy throughout the whole program, but he's just had a hard time when he wasn't able to do that with the injuries."

The rough patch made it even sweeter for Williams when the doors to the locker room swung open before kickoff Saturday.

He had only been given medical clearance to play Monday and had been limited throughout training camp, aiming to avoid any setbacks with his knee. But Fickell and defensive line coach Mike Vrabel had a plan to get Williams involved early, and after all the rehabilitation and hundreds of bags of ice, he hung back in the crowd making its way down the ramp to Ohio Stadium.

Williams was the last player out, and while that's not unusual for him, there was obviously a bit more significance than the previous times he has made the walk.

"The more I'm out there in front of this stadium and these fans, I tend to do that a lot; I sit back and take it all in," Williams said. "I just enjoy the atmosphere that I'm surrounded by, and I couldn't be at a better place than Ohio State. It's a blessing, man. ... I feel like I actually belong here, and I'm not going to quit. I'm going to make these guys happy when they give me the chance.

"It's unparalleled the way I feel right now. I had no idea that I would play as many plays as I did -- hopefully I can enjoy it 11 more times this year."

That number will be much easier for the senior to keep track of this fall.