TEMPE, Ariz. The ideal Sunday for many Americans was hell for Ryan Williams.
Unable to play last season after rupturing a patellar tendon in a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, the rookie running back had a front-row seat in coach Ken Whisenhunts suite for the Cardinals' season opener against Carolina.
He hated the view.
I just stopped going to games, Williams said. It made me sick to my stomach not being able to play.
Not playing was just one of his hurdles. Following months of healing after surgery, Williams quadriceps muscle atrophied so much that he joked he was devolving.
I felt like a baby learning to walk all over again, he said. It was a pain just sitting up.
There are many threads of hope for the Cardinals offense to cling to with offseason workouts in full gear. Quarterback Kevin Kolb will finally have an offseason to absorb and master the offense. Running back Beanie Wells has a healthy knee, a 1,000-yard season and questions about his toughness in his rear-view mirror.
Receiver Larry Fitzgerald has a new playmate in rookie first-round draft pick Michael Floyd. Rookie Bobby Massie could fill a longtime void at tackle, and guard Adam Snyder could help shore up the right side of that long-maligned offensive line.
But Williams dynamic potential might top the list.
Fans didnt see much of him last year because of his early injury. But media members in attendance for a closed training camp practice at Northern Arizona Universitys Walkup Skydome remember the moment when Williams started bending reality. They remember the touchdown run on which juked a defender so badly that his Cardinals teammates were howling and high-fiving on the field.
You saw a player that you thought could be a good inside and outside runner, an understated coach Ken Whisenhunt said. Im excited to see him continuing to improve every day.
The Cards will have to be patient on that front. Williams rehabbed hard this offseason, and he insists the healing process is over, but he still cant take part in most portions of organized team activities.
Being able to strap this helmet back on and adjust it to my head again felt great, he said. But I came back to reality when I came back out here and I wasnt able to be with the team.
At issue for Williams is building enough strength in the quadriceps muscle above that rebuilt knee.
For this injury, Ive been told theres no type of brace to prevent any more injury," he said. "Its how muscular your quad is and how strong it is to protect everything in that knee cap. Ive still got time. I truly believe that Ill be ready at the beginning of the season, and Im pretty sure about the first or second game.
The Cardinals medical staff has told him that Week 3 or 4 might be more realistic, but Williams has never lacked for confidence.
Im built with confidence, so I would never lose it, he said. Its a mental thing. Sometimes I dont even know whats going on in my brain. Its just too confident and it comes by as cocky, but its never that. Thats just how I play.
Kolb hopes it translates on the field.
The biggest thing for him is to get confidence in that leg, Kolb said. Thats what everybody says whenever they have that injury -- getting back out there and having that confidence to hit that plant and that cut at 100 percent.
In that regard, Williams has a specific motivational tool.
Ive heard the negative comments like hes not going to come back from that injury with the way he runs, Williams said. I dont pay any attention to those. I listen to the ones that say I cant wait to see Lil Sweetness back on the field. Hes going to bring another dimension to this team.
Last week, on my last set of squats, I did 380 (pounds) for six reps. Thats doing more than a lot of people with two good knees. Im working my tail off, non-stop, man and this is not going to happen again.
I promise you its going to be a good season for No. 34 and the Cardinals.