KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs defensive tackle Xavier Williams had never suffered an injury in his football career that sidelined him long-term, so getting the official word he would return from injured reserve for the end of the season brought a smile to the big man's face.
“I knew it was a possibility, but you know how football goes,” Williams said in the locker room Thursday. “You never know what might happen. I'm excited that I was able to come back and just ready to get back to work.”
Williams suffered a severe high-ankle sprain in a Week 5 loss to Indianapolis. He picked up eight total tackles with a forced fumble through five games before the injury. The Chiefs stood 4-1 at the time, but proceeded to lose three of their next five games with Williams out. He returns to a team on a hot streak, winners of five games in a row heading into Sunday's finale against the Los Angeles Chargers.
“You just kind of feel powerless,” Williams said of watching the team's mid-season struggles. “It's a sickening feeling. But it's been exciting seeing the guys go out there, seeing them win, how much better the defense has been playing. You just get excited for your brothers going out there, giving it their all and playing well.”
Williams entered the season with high expectations after turning in a career year in 2018. He set new personal bests with 16 games played and four starts while tallying 2.5 sacks and 47 total tackles. But he says everyone on the defense felt responsibility for improving after the club fell short of the Super Bowl last season.
“Had a No. 1 offense and we just didn't have much to complement them with,” Williams said. “I think everybody takes it personally, even if they weren't here, just how people kind of viewed us at the beginning of the season, coming into the season, knowing that they didn't expect much from us. I think that's kind of help motivate a lot of guys to pay attention to a lot more, attention to detail and just be better.”
Williams said he's seen a change in the defense since he was last on the field. He's eager to see how he can fit into in the rotation at defensive tackle with starters Chris Jones and Derrick Nnadi and backups Mike Pennel and Khalen Saunders.
“I've seen a lot of improvement,” Williams said. “Kind of seen the way that we called games at the beginning half of the year change a bit. We've become a lot more aggressive, it's been working out, been working well. Hopefully we can just keep it going.”
After a season of juggling multiple injuries along the defensive line, coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is glad to have more depth and veteran experience in the form of Williams rejoining the roster.
“The luxury right now is we got five guys in there that we can rotate around,” Spagnuolo said. “It's nice to have him there. He's one of those players that can play a couple of positions as a D-lineman because he's a smart football player, so it's good to have him back.”
Head coach Andy Reid said recently he liked what he saw from Williams after he returned to practice Dec. 4.
“It looks like he’s getting his legs under him better than he was last week, which is understandable,” Reid said. “I thought he did a good job of what we’re asking him to do right now.”
The time off for Williams might turn into a blessing in disguise for himself and the club. Williams suffered a back injury during training camp, and missed practice time early in the season with an illness. He also tweaked his ankle in the week leading up to suffering the several ankle sprain.
“Obviously I needed my ankle to heel, but there's a lot of little nagging injuries that you get through preseason and the beginning of the season, stuff like that,” Williams said. “Feeling fresh, that's the biggest No. 1 goal for everybody going into the playoffs.”
For Williams, his return couldn't come up a better time.
“Oh, man, it feels good,” he said. “Get back, the team's looking good, getting ready for the playoffs. I'm excited and ready to go.”