- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2018

RICHMOND — Trent Williams is one of the NFL’s elite left tackles when healthy — but that’s the operative phrase. When healthy.

The Washington Redskins’ anchor is known for gutting through injuries — he hasn’t played a full 16 games since 2013 — but last year was his toughest yet. After making just 10 starts, the Redskins shut him down last December as he fought a ligament tear in his right knee.

That knee is now “fine,” he said Sunday.

“I think the strength and the stability is there,” Williams said. “It’s just the workload, not playing football, not pushing on guys for a long time. You just got to see how it’ll react. It’s just more so being cautious than anything.”

Part of that caution is because Williams, 30, doesn’t “feel like I’m back to being me” yet, despite the healed leg.

“I’m still knocking the rust off,” he said. “Every day, my eyes are starting to adapt to guys moving 100 miles an hour. I don’t know if there’s anything left other than just to get more reps.”

Williams, who dealt with a bone bruise in the same knee earlier in his pro career, began taking team reps Saturday. That happened to coincide with the first day this summer that coach Jay Gruden added some full-contact drills.

“Everybody knows that we were not very good offensively on third-and-one last year,” Gruden said. “So it was important for us to try to set the tone and get some physicality to our football team and training camp. I thought it was a good time to do it.”

The Redskins converted just 32 percent of all third downs in 2017, 31st in the league. Having Williams and right tackle Morgan Moses at their fittest should do something to remedy that.

“We were in a lot of short-yardage situations that we wish we could have back from last year,” Williams said. “Definitely one of the things we’re gonna focus on going into this season. … Injuries played a huge part, but you can’t make an excuse. Everybody’s dealing with it.”

While he readies himself physically with more practice reps to come, Williams pointed out how his game has improved mentally since Bill Callahan started coaching the offensive line in 2015.

“Coach Callahan breaks the game down to a science. It’s something that I’d never done before,” Williams said. “I just kinda lined up, knew my man, knew my assignment and played. But he brings the overall understanding to the game. He helps your football IQ. He definitely did mine.”

Callahan is “leaning on” the offensive captain and his fellow veterans to help new players like third-round draft pick Geron Christian.

“He always kind of puts that on our plate, to help bring the young guys along,” Williams said. “He has so much to cover that it’s hard for him to spend a lot of time on one person. The veterans are there to help deliver his message.”

Gruden called Williams “the best tackle in the NFL” last week while describing how he pushed through in 2017.

“It really just shows what kind of leader and what kind of toughness he has and still playing with that one leg, basically, he was still probably as effective or more effective than any tackle in the league,” Gruden said.

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