(Note: First off, I would like to thank our administrator, Ryan Wolfe, for allowing me to be a part of the BLTD team. Great friend and a great man.)
Now, let’s go back to week 2.
The dreaded New England Patriots were driving on a Bills defense that was pushed back on its heels without an answer to Tom Brady, Dion Lewis, or any of his pro-bowl receivers. A trend that lasted for the most part of 4 quarters. Brady drops back on a play-action motion to his man in the backfield, and finds Julian Edelman on a characteristic crossing route towards the left hash mark. Edelman brings the ball in and does the rest of the work for 6 points.
Most of Ralph Wilson Stadium was very frustrated at that point. But that frustration quickly phased into fear as Buffalo Bills’ strong safety Aaron Williams did not get up after his attempted tackle on the New England receiver. Trainers came over to him as he lay just outside the endzone motionless for the better part of 10 minutes. And then, the sight that no one wants to see… The ambulance.
Placed in a neck brace, moved onto a stretcher, and loaded into the back, the Bills’ safety was done for the day with an injury to his neck. Williams returned for Buffalo’s week 5 matchup against the Tennessee Titans, only to re-aggravate his injury in week 2, and follow it up with surgery shortly after. Since then, he hasn’t seen a football field.
This week was his first time practicing with his teammates after his surgery, and he has been all smiles. But behind his contagious grin and under that tiny pink mohawk, there has been doubt in his head. Doubt on whether or not his personal safety is at risk after what typically can be a career-threatening neck injury. The 25-year-old Texas product has acknowledged the possibility of this setback cutting his career significantly short.
“I didn’t think it would be coming, this time, this soon.” said Williams.
By now everyone knows about the issues plaguing the NFL (more so the game of football as a whole) and its injuries related to concussions/nervous system. Men such as Eric LeGrand from his Rutgers days, and Kevin Everett (also a Buffalo Bill) have gone down due to spinal injuries of varying severity. While the league has done its best as of recent to keep up with these injuries and the protocols going along with them, many players have ignored several symptoms related to these injuries.
Aaron Williams happens to be one of those players.
He has openly admitted to playing with peripheral neuropathy in parts of his body, and saw it as something not to be concerned about. Scary to hear? Yes. The first time this has happened in football? Probably not. These men go 110% just about every play, and with the speed of today’s game, being slightly numb can turn into something exponentially worse in an instant.
Which by now the NFL has to ask, “How many of these men are playing with this numbness?” And while that number may not be easy to pinpoint, it most likely occurring at an alarming rate. While team trainers and doctors are on the sideline to check on players who need attention every down, very few of the men in the helmets will go off unless it is visibly evident that there is a real issue (ie. Case Keenum). As we all know, that was FAR from managed properly.
While Williams is a great talent in the secondary, a fan favorite, and easily Buffalo’s best safety, his story should be another red flag for the NFL to keep a close eye on. Coming back from a neck injury so quickly is obviously not the best of decisions by the player, coaches, and organization. As we have all seen over the years, things can go awry for a player in an instant.
So three takeaways from this:
- These injuries tend to be fairly subjective in severity, especially at game speed. Which rolls into takeaway #2.
- If the player is well enough to stand on his own, but unable to retain feeling in some extremities, there is a good chance said player will keep it to himself so he can continue playing. Thus risking further damage.
- This is obviously something that needs to be addressed. But because the NFL is already working through a labyrinth of issues relating solely to concussions right now, who knows when and/or how long it will take for the league to efficiently address this problem.
Aaron won’t be seeing the field this Sunday as Buffalo faces the Philadelphia Eagles, but don’t count him out for the remainder for the season. Post-op, Williams said his chances of playing this year were 50-50. While he claims to feel well and is itching to get back out there, that original proposal doesn’t seem to have changed too much.