The black jersey Kris Williams wore for last week’s Texas Tech football scrimmage was a giveaway. Players recovering from major injury often don a jersey of a different color, marking them as off-limits to contact.
Not Williams. He’s back and cleared for contact. Rusty maybe, but ready to go.
The sophomore linebacker from Dallas Bryan Adams is back on the field, with a chance to be in the two-deep, seven months after surgery for a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament.
“I feel like I’ve got something to prove,” Williams said this week. “I’ve been here two years. I redshirted the first year, got hurt the second year, so I’ve got a big chip on my shoulder. I’m really ready to get back out there, so I push myself every day.”
Tech has its second open session of spring ball when the Red Raiders scrimmage at 8 p.m. today at Jones AT&T Stadium. Co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith would love to see Williams do well, because he needs a backup to emerge at bandit outside linebacker.
If Tech had a real game this week, Smith said Williams would be starter Pete Robertson’s backup, an indication of how unsettled the job is.
“It’s definitely a question mark,” Smith said. “We don’t have anybody that’s competing with Pete and pushing him right now.”
Senior Zach Winbush was penciled in as the No. 2 before spring, but suffered a hamstring injury on the first day and hasn’t practiced since.
Williams was cleared to return when the Red Raiders came back from spring break, which was seven practices ago. Junior Andre Ross, who had a back problem over the winter, returned about the same time Williams did and saw a little bit of action in last week’s scrimmage at Midland.
The Red Raiders need one to seize the opportunity, because Smith and defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt thought Robertson had to play too many snaps last season. He started all 13 games and made 60 tackles, but rarely came off the field.
“It’s tough on guys like that because Pete has a high motor and he’s playing hard all the time, but eventually he’s going to get tired and break down,” Smith said. “So that’s what I’m trying to find right now is a bandit that can compete with Pete and they can split some reps.”
No wonder Williams came back relatively quickly from knee surgery, eager to get back into the mix.
“I’m really rusty,” he said. “I can’t lie about that, but I’m stronger. I can see the difference in me manhandling a lineman, like a tackle, better than I did in the fall.
“I did all upper body (weight training) when I hurt my lower body.”
Williams, at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, has as thick a build as any of the team’s linebackers, which has led to internal discussions over the last year of where to use him. Smith views him as a prototype strong-side linebacker who can hold the edge against rushing teams.
But based on Williams’ build, coaches were working him at middle linebacker in August. They were enthusiastic about his progress, and then he suffered the knee injury.
“It was a big letdown,” he said. “It’s really heartbreaking, because I was at the point where I was really maximizing. I was doing really good. I was at the point where I was going to be seeing a lot of playing time. It was just heartbreaking to get a season-ending injury the week before the first game.”
Williams called ACL rehabilitation the hardest thing he’s ever done. Now that he’s come through it, though, he figures he can handle whatever obstacle presents itself.
“ACL rehab is no joke,” he said. “It made me mentally stronger, and I think it helped me for football. Use all the tools, all the things I learned in rehab and apply it to football. I tore my ACL. Now I’m ready for any test that football has to offer.”
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■ What: Texas Tech scrimmage
■ When: 8 p.m. Friday
■ Where: Jones AT&T Stadium
■ Admission: Free