Whether Jamaal Williams is back in the lineup Sunday for the Detroit Lions and running the football is yet to be determined as he works himself back from a thigh injury that forced the veteran running back to miss the last two games.
There is no question, however, that Williams' return to practice this week has given both the players and coaches a spark.
"You know when he's not there," running backs coach and assistant head coach Duce Staley said of Williams. "You don't see him dancing, joking, playing jokes. You never know what he be doing. He's setting you up for something, you best believe it. It's just good to have him back out there. He's a leader."
He's a pretty darn good football player, too.
Williams is the thunder to D’Andre Swift's lightning, and he brings a toughness and physicality to Detroit's run game. He leads the team with a 4.4 yard average per rush.
It's too bad the Lions didn't have him Sunday in Pittsburgh. That game seemed right up Williams' alley. Rain and nasty conditions that turned into a running game for the Lions. Detroit totaled 229 rushing yards, but cooled off in the fourth quarter and overtime. That's where getting Williams back could really benefit Detroit.
It's supposed to be cold and rainy in Cleveland Sunday. Conditions Williams said Thursday are just fine by him.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Williams said with a big smile. "I love rain. All it do to me is get me more turnt. Me, I'm just ready to go and have fun in all weathers."
On the year, Williams has been stuffed in the run game just five times on 71 rushes for a loss of 11 yards total. For comparison, Swift has been stuffed 13 times (123 rushes) for 34 negative yards.
Williams is one of those runners that always seems to be falling forward and getting positive yards. It's the physical presence he brings. Of Williams' 71 rushes, 24 have resulted in first downs (33.8 percent). That percentage leads all NFL running backs this season.
"We definitely miss him, especially in goal line and short yardage opportunities we had," Staley said of Williams. "How effective he is moving the ball. Just getting him back would be good."
Veteran defensive tackle Michael Brockers talked Thursday about the importance of stacking good defensive performances on top of each other and how that's the next step for this young Lions unit. He's right, too, it's something we haven't seen much of this season with Detroit.
Week 5 in Minnesota the defense played pretty well in a close loss on a last-second field goal. The following week Cincinnati was able to do whatever they want offensively in a blowout win. Detroit's defense regrouped Week 7 in Los Angeles and played pretty well, giving the team a chance late against a really hot offense at the time. The following week they give up 44 points to Philly.
Detroit's coming off arguably their best defensive performance last week in Pittsburgh. They were better in the red zone, forced three turnovers and held the Steelers to 16 points in a tie.
"Once we have very good practices where we're communicating, we can take that to the game," Brockers said. "It's been looking like that so far (this week). All the guys have been locked in. Just kind of taking from that (Pittsburgh) performance and just keep going up."
BIGGER ROLE FOR OKWARA?
Outside linebacker Trey Flowers missed his second consecutive practice Thursday with a knee injury, which puts his availability for Sunday into question. If Flowers can't go, a much heavier workload might fall on second-year outside linebacker Julian Okwara.
Okwara produced his first career interception last week against the Steelers and has 15 tackles (12 solo), four tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception on the year.
He is one of five NFL linebackers to post at least four tackles for loss, two sacks and one pick this season.
"I'm ready. I'm begging for more reps," Okwara said Thursday. "I'm ready for whatever workload we got. I'm ready to show whatever I can do and be on the field as much I can."
Okwara played 37 reps in Pittsburgh last week, his highest total of the season. He's gone from being a healthy scratch Week 1 to playing four, 10, 12, 20, 33, 35, 36 and 37 reps the last eight games. Every week he's becoming more and more involved. He might have to play a much bigger role this week if Flowers is out.