Debate rages about Texas lineman's healthPosted: Sunday March 03, 2002 1:44 AM
Updated: Sunday March 03, 2002 2:53 PM
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
INDIANAPOLIS -- This year's NFL Scouting Combine spawned its first injury controversy Saturday when University of Texas offensive tackle Mike Williams -- a projected top-five pick -- was the subject of reports and rumors regarding a potential partial tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
According to league sources, some teams that examined Williams on Friday and reviewed his magnetic resonance imaging test believe that he has a knee injury that may require surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation.
But Williams, who stands to lose millions of dollars if he drops into the second half of the first round, refuted that he has a knee injury.
"That's a lot of speculation," said Williams, who along with University of Miami standout Bryant McKinnie are the top-rated offensive linemen in the draft. "I've never had a problem with my knee. When I hurt it in September [against Texas Tech], I went back into the game. I guess some people are freaked, but I've never had any problems with it. I've never had any problem with the ligament, so it's not even an issue."
League sources said Williams did not show any sign of a knee injury while taking part in the combine drill work on Saturday, other than an occasional slip on the RCA Dome's artificial surface. The head coach of one team that's interested in Williams said he didn't see anything out of the ordinary during Williams' workout.
"I took MRIs yesterday," Williams said. "People tugged and pulled on it. The knee feels fine to me. They asked me if it buckles. I said 'No.' I guess when you're investing in somebody, you want to make sure. But I don't have any problem.
"I expect them to be overcautious. You don't want to invest that much money in a player and he comes in and his ligament is messed up. I just told them I've had no problems. I play basketball on it."
Williams' situation was somewhat reminiscent of last year's draft, when Texas defensive tackle Shaun Rogers saw his draft status tumble due to an injury scare. Rogers tore ankle ligaments early in the 2000 season, but continued to play and did not have surgery until January 2001.
Rogers spent a good deal of time at last year's combine riding around in a wheelchair, but dismissed the significance of his injury to the media. Initially projected to be taken in the first half of the draft's opening round, Rogers wound up lasting until Detroit's pick in the second round.
Rogers' doctors pronounced his surgery successful and said he would be ready to play in time for the start of training camp in July, but that didn't keep teams for skittishly avoiding him in the first round. In the end, Rogers was right. He was ready to play by the beginning of camp, started every game, and wound up being considered the steal of the draft when he made several all-rookie teams.
Sources from one NFL team said they would draft Williams fairly high even if he did turn out to need knee surgery to correct an ACL problem. That team believes he would be well worth the investment, given that he'd be rehabilitated and ready to play in 2003 even if he spent his rookie year on the physically unable to perform list.
"No, we're not looking at another Shaun Rogers," Williams said. "Surgery hasn't even been mentioned. Not even rehab. The ligament is there. I looked at the MRI because I had an MRI on my other knee. I looked at the film yesterday and the ligament was there and was fine. I don't know what they're talking about.
"I don't worry about it because there's nothing wrong with my knee. I don't need to worry about it."