The tears Trill Williams shed while laying on the Raymond James Stadium field Saturday night as his knee was being examined indicated that the young cornerback’s second season with the Miami Dolphins was over.
League sources confirmed Sunday that Williams tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Head coach Mike McDaniel’s acknowledged the injury was serious, but stopped short of saying Williams was headed to injured reserve because all the medical experts hadn’t weighed in yet.
But the injury Williams suffered on the defense’s final drive of Saturday’s 26-24 preseason win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, shook the team emotionally, and will without a doubt create challenges for the Dolphins’ secondary because Williams was one of the unit’s top reserves.
“You hate to see an injury like that for a guy who has been working as diligently as Trill has,” McDaniel said. “He was an example of a player early on that I could tell, in a healthy way, wasn’t totally happy with where he was at in terms of depth, and was an example of a player handling that the right way, and transferring that energy to the point where he was making plays daily on the ball.
“He has proven time and time again that things of that nature won’t keep him back over the long hall,” McDaniel continued. “The challenge is to make that [injury] happen for a good reason and come back stronger, and better. But it’s something that hurt the hearts of the whole team. Myself included.”
Williams, a former Syracuse standout who made it onto the Dolphins’ 53-man regular-season roster last season as an undrafted rookie, likely faces a nine to 12 month rehab process. Once placed on injured reserve he’ll have the opportunity to do the work inside the Dolphins facility, and will receive half, if not all of his $825,000 salary.
“Without great tests, you won’t have a testimony,” Trill Williams tweeted on Sunday. “Without big battles, you won’t see big victories.”
His injury means the Dolphins cornerback unit, which was already struggling from a depth standpoint, has been watered down even more. Especially during the preseason considering Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, who is recovering from a leg procedure he had done in the spring, aren’t expected to play a single snap in the final two preseason games.
That leaves Nik Needham, a three-year veteran, Noah Igbinoghene, a 2020 first-round pick, who has struggled in his first two NFL seasons, and during the first three weeks of training camp, and journeymen like Keion Crossen, Elijah Campbell, D’Angelo Ross, Tino Ellis, Kader Kohou and Elijah Hamilton to play the final two preseason games.
And those games will be an audition to fill out the final three to four spots on the depth chart behind Howard, Jones and Needham.
Depth at the position has become so concerning McDaniel acknowledged that general manager Chris Grier and his team are actively exploring their options in free agency, and possibly the trade market.
Veteran cornerbacks like Xavier Rhodes, a three-time Pro Bowler and South Florida native, Chris Harris, a four-time Pro Bowler who started 11 games for the L.A. Chargers in 2021, Joe Haden, a three-time Pro Bowler who started 11 games for Houston last season, A.J. Bouye, a 2017 Pro Bowler who started seven games for Carolina in 2021, and Janoris Jenkins, a former Pahokee High standout who was a 2016 Pro Bowler, are still available as free agents.
And this would seem to be perfect timing for a veteran who wants to skip training camp to join a team. McDaniel’s main concern is about stressing the healthy cornerbacks during practices by running them too much, which could create injuries.
“We’re evaluating a couple guys and we will be in discussion how to handle some of these injuries,” McDaniel said.
Two safeties in camp, Eric Rowe and Quincy Wilson, have experience playing cornerback, and the Dolphins could provide them a few snaps on the boundary, or as a nickel cornerback. Rowe spent half the 2019 season with the Dolphins playing cornerback before he was moved to safety, where he is primarily used to cover tight ends.
“He’s been getting pretty involved in the defense in a good way, and I kind of like where he’s at in terms of his play. There is a new side of him that was on display in the joint practices, the salty side of Rowe. He was getting competitive and I like to see that,” McDaniel said discussing Rowe, who contributed 71 tackles and forced three fumbles in the 17 games he played in last season. “I like where he’s at. But he does have versatility and we could go down that road if need be.”