Williams strengthens back, could play after bye week

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – If Chris Williams had his way, he would have been on the field a week after back surgery.

So yes, he feels ready to play. Whether he’ll get that opportunity when the Chicago Bears host Detroit following this week’s bye is another issue.

For now, the first-round pick from Vanderbilt is in a holding pattern.

“I could play,” Williams said. “I’ve been practicing so I’m sure I could play. I’ve been doing full practices, so I’m not really worried about that part of it. I’m just trying to get my reps.”

Projected as the possible starting left tackle, Williams signed a five-year, $13 million deal just before the start of training camp only to leave the second practice because of stiffness in his lower back.

Two weeks later he had surgery to repair a herniated disk and practiced on a limited basis in late September. He’s been going without restrictions the past few weeks, working with the second team.

Will he get a chance against Detroit?

“(We’ll) see where we are next week,” Turner said.

At the moment, the Bears are 4-3 and tied with Green Bay for the NFC North lead, and they’re winning in a very un-Chicago-like way – behind the offense. More surprising, the yards are coming through the air and not on the ground. Even though the running game is struggling, the Bears will take this: A league-leading 196 points.

Kyle Orton ranks sixth with 1,669 yards passing, and the offensive line is holding its ground after playing a big role as the Bears fell to 7-9 last season.

After allowing 44 sacks and averaging a league-low 3.1 yards per carry, the Bears clearly needed help on the line. They grabbed Williams with the 14th pick even though he reportedly slipped on some teams’ charts because of questions about his back.

He caused a stir in late August when he said the Bears knew of a pre-existing herniated disk in his lower back when they drafted him, but the team said the operation was for a different injury.

The Bears might be reluctant to tinker with the line, since John St. Clair is playing well enough at left tackle. They could give Williams a series here and there rather than simply throw him in once he’s activated, but that poses some challenges.

“I’m not saying it wouldn’t happen, but it’s tough to do on the offensive line,” Turner said. “So much of it is those guys working together and the chemistry they have. It’s tough to do.”

Williams said he’s not sure if he would be better off jumping in or slowly working his way into the rotation.

“It’s hard to say,” he said. “I’ve never played in a pro football game – no preseason, no regular season. It’s hard to say if I could jump in so that’s where coaching comes in. They’ll know when I’m ready.”

For Williams, it’s been a long wait after a blur of activity.

He got drafted and married in April. He bought a house near the Bears’ practice facility, and he got a big contract, all within a few months.

Then, he got some time off that he didn’t want.

Watching from the sidelines was something new. The back problem he had at Vanderbilt was a minor one and didn’t prevent him from starting all 24 games as a junior and senior.

His most serious injury?

Williams paused and said, “I rolled my ankle in college. Got a stinger my freshman year. That’s about it. I’ve been fairly clean. … Nothing newsworthy.”

The time off gave Williams “an opportunity to watch a lot of film” and observe the veterans.

“They see everything,” he said. “Just being with that group and just being able to hear the conversations and the questions they ask about certain things, you learn a lot.”