- The Washington Times - Monday, November 7, 2016

The light was on in Trent Williams‘ locker Monday. He just was not there when practice ended.

Monday wasn’t just the restart of formal work for the Washington Redskins after the bye week. It was the first day for the Redskins to move forward on the field without Williams, their Pro Bowl left tackle, who was relegated to a visitor because of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy announced last week.

Williams is allowed at Redskins Park to attend meetings. He chatted about the Minnesota Vikings‘ defense with right tackle Morgan Moses, talked to some other players in the morning. But, he can’t practice with the team or attend games. No veteran will suffer heartbreak over missing practice. However, when Sunday comes and the roar and three-hour rock fight are gone, that is when Williams‘ absence will be all the more real to him and his teammates.

“Well, we react and play with the guys we have ready to play,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “Ty Nsekhe will step in and do a great job. We have no problem with that. Had a talk with Trent, discussed the situation, what happened, how it happened, and we’ll keep that between us. But we stand behind Trent and we know that he’s going to be a big help for us when he becomes eligible.”

Gruden tried to stifle details, avoiding specifics about whether Williams failed or missed multiple drug tests. But he did support the thought that somewhere in the process of moving Williams along through the league’s steps for substance abuse violations, there was an error.

“Well, I had a talk about it with Trent and he told me the circumstances and it was last year and I believe what happened and I think there was a mix up,” Gruden said. “I think what we have to do is really take into account for what has actually happened right now. He is suspended for four games. That we know. How it happened, why it happened, that’s something between him and the NFLPA but we have to adjust how we coach and who’s going to play for the next four weeks and when he does come back he’ll be ready to go.”

Nsekhe is a gargantuan patch who spent years in the dregs of professional football before arriving in the NFL. The numbers around him are all large: Nsekhe is a 6-foot-8, 335-pound, 31-year-old. He has been employed by such beacons as the Corpus Christi Sharks of Arena Football League’s developmental league, and the Dallas Vigilantes and Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League. As recently as 2016, Nsekhe played for the Los Angeles Kiss of the Arena Football League. He’s played in Canada, had stints with three other NFL teams. Nsekhe is a Johnny Cash song in extra-large pads.

“I’ve had a lot of peaks and valleys,” Nsekhe said. “It took me five, six years to get to where I am now. Just kept my head down and grinded through the ups and downs.

“I always knew in the back of my mind, I was destined to be here. Something stayed with me. I can’t really tell you what it was. I just knew I was going to be here, so, I’m here.”

Nsekhe has closed two games on the field this season because of injuries. He said that experience, plus a first stint with the Redskins last season, has helped him improve. Williams advised him via text about how to handle the media.

“I approach it like I approach every week with full confidence in my abilities,” Nsekhe said. “Nothing changes for me. It’s just the opportunity now.”

It will be a long month for the Redskins without Williams. He has no recourse but to accept the penalty for multiple violations of the substance abuse program. His linemates took a unified stance when talking about Williams, one of the team’s captains. They said he made an error that will not break the connection he had with those in the locker room or stacked to his right each Sunday.

“Obviously, not a great thing to have happen,” center Spencer Long said. “When you go out there and trust a guy like that on the field, with what he can do … there’s a level of trust in that front five and it’s not going to be broken over something like this, that’s a mistake. The stuff that happens out there [on the field] is way more meaningful and something like this is not going to stop it.”

At the least, it has playing on Sundays — or Thursdays, for that matter — on hold for four games. Washington is stepping into a fierce part of the schedule. Sunday’s home game against the Minnesota Vikings begins a run of three games in 11 days, including playing Nov. 20 at 8:30 p.m. against the Green Bay Packers, then again four days later in Dallas. Once Dec. 5 arrives, Williams will be allowed to return to practice. His next on-the-field Sunday will not be until Dec. 11, almost six weeks after the last time he put his game day uniform on. Until then, Nsekhe and the Redskins will try to manage without him.

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