Seven years of wear and tear as an NFL offensive lineman caught up to Maurice Williams last season. The biceps in his right arm that had been sending him danger signals all during the week finally gave out during pregame warm-ups in the 2008 season opener, and Williams' season was over before it even started.
It was kind of that way for the Jaguars in general. They clawed back from an 0-2 start to 3-3, but the Jaguars never made it above .500. The team that was being picked to go all the way in 2008 never made a run at a playoff berth, and some would say the Jaguars' season ended as abruptly as Williams' did.
"There was a lot of adversity that hit this team. You start with the Richard Collier situation. You can't downplay that. Then you start the season with injuries. You look at the whole thing and then trying to get back to where we were the year before," Williams said of what he observed from his place on the injured reserve list.
Williams was quickly joined by the Jaguars' other starting guard, Vince Manuwai, who blew out his knee in the first half of that season opener in Tennessee. By halftime, the Jaguars had lost both starting guards and their left tackle of the future within a six-day period.
"I don't know what's going to happen in this offseason. There are a lot of question marks and one of the question marks is can Maurice get back to where he was?" Williams said.
Most of the question marks the Jaguars face are on the offensive line. Who will be the team's center? Who will be the team's left tackle? Can Williams and Manuwai make it all the way back from their injuries? Will right tackle Tony Pashos return to the strong performance he gave in 2007?
Williams had the right biceps reattached and the labrum cleaned up. His right arm had sustained damage from the 2005 neck injury that made Williams a one-armed player against Willie McGinest in that season's playoffs. The right arm repaired, Williams takes extra care not to ignore his left biceps.
"It bothered me during the week. I got some treatment and it quieted down and then it flared up during pregame. I probably just finished the damage," he said of the right biceps tear he sustained in Tennessee. He played in the Jaguars' opening series but he knew the situation was hopeless.
Williams is set to resume his career. He has three years remaining on his contract and he wants to finish it out in Jacksonville.
"I enjoy football. Not being able to play the whole year just made me more hungry. I know my window is closing and I want to enjoy it. I want a ring," he said.
No one will be picking the Jaguars for a ring in 2009. The greater likelihood is that the Jaguars will be mostly picked to finish last in the AFC South. In some ways, it would be welcome.
"The chemistry?" Williams said when asked to comment on what has been cited as one of the major reasons for the team's demise in '08. "There were some issues with that. You could tell there were some guys unhappy with their situations and guys who felt things could be different, and the year before we didn't have that.
"Guys have to commit to team. Jack has been talking about it and guys have been talking about it already. There's not one guy in that locker room that doesn't want to win a championship. I think we can be where everyone wants to be if everybody commits," Williams added.
He watched the Steelers rally to win the Super Bowl and he couldn't help but think that the Jaguars had twice won in Pittsburgh in the 2007 season, one of those victories having come in the playoffs.
"When you watched it you thought, what could've happened? Pittsburgh is a good team and we're a team that can compete with them any day," Williams said.
He also knows that any chance the Jaguars have of reclaiming the success they enjoyed in 2007 starts with repair and recovery on the team's offensive line. It is likely to be the centerpiece of the team's reconstruction efforts this offseason.
"We understand we have to be a unit. It's going to take us working together this whole offseason and getting prepared for the season. Guys like Uche (Nwaneri) and Dennis (Norman) and the guys that filled in got valuable experience. It may be a rookie left tackle. It may be a new center, but we've got a job to do," Williams said. "It definitely starts up front. If we're not performing at a high level, Dave (Garrard) can't do what he does best and Maurice (Jones-Drew) and Fred (Taylor) can't do what they do best."
Coach Jack Del Rio will be looking for veteran leadership to promote the kind of chemistry the team had in 2007 but lacked last year. Williams wants to help provide that leadership.
"As I'm older and more mature, I have to realize that. I have to step into that. I have to lead by example. How I conduct myself in the weight room. How I conduct myself on the practice field," he said.
It starts with offseason conditioning, for which Del Rio said he expects all players to participate this year.
"I agree with it. If the leader says he wants everybody here, then that's what needs to happen," Williams said.