Ditching the dummy

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Like a true best friend, the arms are always open wide and waiting for a little close contact.

Nathan Williams isn't looking for a hug, though. And honestly, he'd much rather trade in the dummy that is taking consistent abuse from him behind the north end zone on the Ohio State practice field for a real person.

But the senior isn't completely cleared yet for that kind of physical activity, so on a steamy Tuesday afternoon, the defensive end keeps chopping on those padded arms and working on his technique on his own, pausing every now and then to watch the Buckeyes he's intent on joining again after microfracture knee surgery.

"I spent a lot of time with [that dummy] this last week," Williams joked on Sunday during his first interview of training camp. "We've had a lot of bonding, one-on-one time.

"I'm strengthening our relationship out there, and hopefully I can work on a couple moves at the same time."

It might be almost time to start using them on humans again.

In certain situations he's already been cleared to take part in individual drills with the Buckeyes, though Williams has still had to stand on the sideline during team portions of practice through the first week of practice this month. But by his estimation, he's closing in on 90 percent health and eyeing the Sept. 1 season opener against Miami (Ohio) for a return.

That would mark the one-year anniversary of the arrival of unbearable pain in his knee in his second quarter against Akron -- and a trying rehabilitation period that tested the patience of Williams, though not his desire.

"I'm never a quitter," Williams said. "You're going to have to drag me off this field before I call it quits. I think why I was down because it's just hard to accept the fact that you're performing at such a high level one day and the next day and so on and so forth you're just like, 'Gosh, when is this going to stop? When am I going to feel right again?'

"You just have doubts surfacing throughout your mind. It's really hard for an athlete to get hurt and realize his potential. It's a pain not only physically, but mentally it's even worse."

Time was the only real cure for the former, and Williams was made well aware of how much it would take to recover from the procedure designed to regrow cartilage in his knee. For the latter, there wasn't necessarily a clear timetable for coming to terms with the process mentally, how difficult watching his teammates play without him contributing as a pass-rushing terror off the edge could be.

But since practices have resumed and he's slowly resumed team activities, Williams has seen how close he is to leaving behind a dummy propped up with a tire at the base -- validating everything else he's gone through to emerge back through the tunnel at Ohio Stadium again.

"I think right now is that point where I'm actually seeing the light, you know," Williams said. "I wasn't entering camp, I would say, just because I haven't been able to test it as much. Physical therapists don't know the game of football like coaches do, and coaches can't be out with us [in the offseason].

"I'm trying to convince them that I'm ready. It's been a long process with this, and I want them to know how hard I've been working. I want to prove to everyone that I'm still the player that I was before."

The Buckeyes have their arms open as well, waiting patiently to welcome him to the lineup again and give him a chance to take on somebody that might be able to hit him back.