Wally Williams: Suggs can return from torn Achilles

Former Ravens offensive lineman had same injury, surgery

May 07, 2012|Mike Preston

When team officials announced last week that Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs had torn his Achilles tendon, former Ravens offensive lineman Wally Williams understood what Suggs was experiencing.

Nearly 15 years ago at almost the same time, Williams tore the Achilles tendon in his right, or plant foot, while backpedaling in off-season drills. He returned in six months to start the final 10 games of the 1997 season.

Suggs, 29, is expected to have surgery Tuesday morning. He has already vowed to play this season, which Williams says can happen.

But it's a long, long road back.

"Oh, he can return, I'm living proof of that," said Williams, who played in Baltimore from 1996 through 1998. "But I'm not sure he could do what I could do. I'm old school and come from a different mindset.

"If you're going to have this injury, this is the team to be with because they have the right support system in place, the best doctors. But this is also a new day and age. It also depends on the Ravens and if they want to bring him back so quickly, or decide it's not worth the risk."

Suggs has seen several doctors and according to a league source, initial medical reports indicate serious damage to the tendon. But Williams says there is just as much emotional and mental damage because of the nature of the injury.

"I was working out with the offensive line doing some agility drills," said Williams, recalling his injury. "I was backpedaling and then all of a sudden I hear this popping sound as if someone had popped a paper bad. Orlando Brown heard it and so did Jeff Blackshear. At first, I thought it was Blackshear who had kicked me in the back of the leg.

"Then the next thing you know, there is no calf muscle, it's gone and your foot is flopping like a flip flop. It's just dangling, and you're scared and right away you think about never playing again. You don't realize how much the Achilles controls the back part of your leg until you tear it. Afterwards, you have nothing because you can't push off."

According to Williams, he was rushed to the hospital and operated on the same day. With Suggs, it has been more than a week since he first reported the injury to team officials, and surgery might have been delayed to allow some swelling to decrease.

The key to rehabilitation is having a support system in place. With Williams, he had three great advisers in place in team trainers Bill Tessendorf, Mark Smith and strength coach Jerry Simmons.

Smith is still with the team as head trainer.

"All those guys over there are outstanding," Williams said. "They never, ever allowed me to believe I couldn't come back even when I had my doubts. You've got to have those guys in place because it is such a trauma. On the same morning I got up to have waffle and eggs with the kids, later in the day I was in a hospital, having surgery and wondering if I was ever going to play pro football again."

Williams ruptured his Achilles in April and was back in the starting lineup on Oct. 19 against Miami. He was later the recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, and a year later the Ravens designated him their franchise player.

He played five more seasons after the injury and never reported any problems.

Williams, though, was an offensive lineman. Suggs is an outside linebacker/defensive end. There is more change of direction needed for pass rushing specialists like Suggs, who has 82.5 career sacks.

He has to come hard off the corner because power and quickness in that first step is a major advantage. Last year, Suggs had a career-high 14 sacks and was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.

Can he regain that form?

"I was a quick, fast guard and I had a strong lower power game," Williams said. "With the injury, I thought all of that had been compromised. I actually came back and was on the scout team a month before I started the first game."

"It comes down to trusting the guys you work with, and them trusting you. I came back with the same explosion and there was never a problem again. With Suggs, he can return in six months. Again, it's a question of if the Ravens want to bring him back or allow him more time?"

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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