Trent Williams was glad to be talking about practice. He was happy to back on the football field.
Washington's left tackle is back after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, and his return could not have come at a more opportune time for the banged-up Redskins (6-5-1). Washington faces a crucial stretch beginning Sunday at the Philadelphia Eagles and can use the boost on its offensive line.
While interim replacement Ty Nsekhe (ankle), starting left guard Shawn Lauvao (groin) and starting center Spencer Long (concussion/stinger) missed practice Wednesday, Williams was back where he belongs.
“It's great to get Trent back under any circumstances, but when so many people are banged up, it's a real needed shot in the arm,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “Glad to have one of our best players back, and I know he's ready to go and love to see his urgency and excitement coming back.”
Williams said the circumstances of this four-game suspension were “night and day” from the one he served at the end of the 2011 season, declining to go into further detail. The 28-year-old didn't want to go into the league's policy on recreational drugs and said his focus was on Philadelphia.
“A lot of anger, a lot of disappointment,” Williams said. “The people I'm disappointed in, they know. It's really not for me to comment on right now. I'll deal with it later.”
Right now the pressing concern is getting Washington back on track after consecutive losses at Dallas and Arizona dropped it out of a playoff position. Nsekhe performed exceptionally in Williams' absence, but his return is as much an emotional boost as anything as the Redskins prepare for the stretch run.
“You're getting one of your leaders back ... one of the big guys back,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “We need that. He's a leader on the offensive line and when you get a guy like that back, shoot, that would make other guys play better up to his standards. That speaks volumes for us as a whole, not just one unit but as a team.”
Williams will be tasked with protecting Cousins against defensive end Brandon Graham, who leads the Eagles with five sacks. It's unclear whether Lauvao and Long will be ready to go, which could mean the first start of the season for 24-year-old Arie Kouandjio at left guard and veteran John Sullivan at center.
Even after Lauvao struggled against the Cardinals, there was no doubt Williams would be back at left tackle despite chatter that he could move inside. Williams made the Pro Bowl four times and coach Jay Gruden called him “the best in the business.”
Williams couldn't practice with his teammates during the suspension, so he went to the weight room and tried to stay as sharp as possible.
“He's in great shape and ready to roll,” Gruden said. “Trent always looks good. ... He's big, strong, fast, physical.”
Williams battled knee injuries earlier in the season and always seems to be playing through some kind of pain. As much as he was bothered by the anxiety of watching games on TV and missed the action, the one benefit of the suspension is Williams feels the freshest and healthiest he has been in a while.
“I had some injuries I was dealing with,” Williams said. “I was able to heal up all those and I went back to doing my offseason workouts during these four weeks and I was able to gain a few pounds of muscle, so that was the silver lining, me physically being able to get back in top shape and get healthy.”
NOTES: In addition to Nsekhe, Lauvao and Long, safety Will Blackmon (concussion), defensive ends Chris Baker (ankle), Ricky Jean Francois (knee and foot) and Anthony Lanier (shin) and safety Donte Whitner (illness) didn't practice. ... Tight end Jordan Reed was among those with limited participation because of his sprained left shoulder. Reed missed the Cardinals game, but Gruden still considers him day to day.