JACKSONVILLE – This would be a remarkable comeback story.
Brennan Williams knows that. He knows, too, many people figure he won't be making it back at all.
But Williams, a 24-year-old right tackle who underwent two significant knee surgeries in the last two seasons before signing with the Jaguars last week, said he doesn't necessarily see himself as a comeback story.
Yes, the last two years have been difficult. And yes, obstacles have been overcome.
But Williams, a third-round selection by the Houston Texans in the 2013 NFL Draft, said he has never doubted himself. And when it comes to being able to play at the level at which he played before two microfracture knee surgeries, he certainly doesn't doubt himself now.
"I'm better off for it," Williams said this week.
And Williams means more than mentally, too.
To hear him tell it, he feels stronger and better overall than he has in a long, long time.
He said he proved this to himself throughout a long, difficult rehabilitation. That process culminated in a sense when he signed with the Jaguars after a workout in Jacksonville last week.
"It's taken a long time, and I know microfracture is kind of the buzzword right now – the career-changing injury – but I've put together the best possible team to get to get back to the point where I was at," Williams said. "It's been a long time coming, but I've been working with some great guys and my rehab has gone well. I'm close to 100 percent, and I'm three months early for that."
Signing with Jacksonville was a good day, and though it hardly guarantees him a roster spot, it was a welcome positive moment for a player who has been through a lot of tough ones lately.
Williams, selected No. 89 overall in 2013 by Houston, played in just one game that preseason before undergoing microfracture surgery. That ended his rookie season. And when the Texans released him in July 2014 with a failed physical designation after learning a second surgery was needed. He wasn't surprised. Nor was he bitter.
"Obviously, you'd like for things to go better," he said. "The last time I got cut was eighth grade basketball. It's hard to take rejection, but I understand it's a business. I wouldn't have kept me around another year after I found out I needed another surgery."
But while he understood the Texans' decision, Williams said he never saw the release as the end of the NFL.
Williams underwent a second microfracture surgery last August to address issues that he said arose during the first rehabilitation process. He called the situation "unfortunate," and said while the issues were related "in the sense that sometimes when you're rehabbing an injury other things go wrong," each is now healed.
"It's tough to have that kind of a break, but I figure you end up where you're supposed to end up," he said. "You put your nose to the grindstone and keep on working."
Williams added with a laugh, "I've got my career injuries out of the way early."
Williams, a native of North Easton, Massachusetts, who played collegiately at North Carolina, had his surgery performed by renowned knee surgeon Brian Cole. He then spent last fall rehabilitating with a decided New England feel. He worked with trainer Alex Guerrero, who also works with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and also worked with Edge Performance Systems in Foxboro, where he worked out in high school.
"It was sort of a 'Rocky' back-to-my-roots time," he said with a laugh.
Williams also worked last fall with former Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarneccia, long considered one of the NFL's top coaches at the position.
"From a technique standpoint, I feel better than ever," he said, adding of his overall health, "I don't think I'm as big of a risk as other people might think I am. I feel great. I feel better than I did my sophomore year of college. It is a tough surgery but you take what you've got and you make what's best of it.
"I don't think I'm a risk at all and I think everybody's going to see that pretty soon."
Where Williams fits with the Jaguars remains to be seen. The Jaguars have a need at right tackle, where he will compete, but free agency and the draft also remain options.
That's the future, and for Williams a key date in that future comes in mid-March. That's when he will arrive in Jacksonville to begin preparing for the team's voluntary offseason program, which is scheduled to begin in late April.
"The sun is definitely coming out," he said by telephone this week. "I'm sitting here in seven feet of snow, and my wife is very relieved we're going to be down in sunny Jacksonville in a couple of weeks. It's been a long road to get there, but this is where I'm meant to be. The situation couldn't be better for me. I'm just very fortunate.
"When you go through this kind of thing, especially since I've been off the grid so long, you kind of get written off. All I can do is keep working and get to where I need to be.
"Obviously I did well enough that the Jaguars gave me a chance, so I'm very excited for that."