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Patience Put To The Test For Bengals' Newcomers And Those Finding Them 

Defensive tackle Xavier Williams, 28, is a veteran of six NFL seasons and 45 games.
Defensive tackle Xavier Williams, 28, is a veteran of six NFL seasons and 45 games.

Xavier Williams, the Bengals' newest defensive tackle in an assembly line of them, has made seven tackles in an AFC championship game and suited up for his hometown Chiefs in a Super Bowl.

And now he can add this week-and-a-half to his resume after completing the longest free-agent tryout in the history of the Bengals.

In what can only happen in a pandemic, Williams arrived here a week ago Monday and tried out the next day, but couldn't take a physical, sign his contract and then get his playbook until he could be allowed into Paul Brown Stadium this Monday.

In between? It turned out it wasn't a problem for Williams, 28, a veteran of six NFL seasons and 45 games. That 6-2, 310-pound figure walking along the Ohio River daily to stretch his legs had to hole up in his hotel room while stringing together six straight negative Covid tests.

"Luckily, I don't mind solitude," Williams says, "and Netflix has some pretty good stuff. You name it. "The 100." Re-watching, "The Office." Everything and anything."

Williams knows even though he won't practice until Wednesday, he'll have a part in the next Bengals drama that is a road game in Indy pitting rookie quarterback Joe Burrow against the 230th start for Colts quarterback Philip Rivers.

"That's the plan," says Williams, the third veteran tackle to join them since training camp began, a period that coincides with an onslaught of injuries at the position.

Plans have had to be revamped all around the world hourly and an NFL draft room that houses the personnel staff is no different than a first-grade classroom, the strip mall coffee shop or a high-tech monstrosity. When the NFL extended the protocols for allowing free agents to sign with new teams to six days, Ouija boards replaced draft boards.

"It's a different world for personnel guys right now. There is a projection into the future that needs to happen," says Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin, who is making Nostradamus look like a forgetful carny. "It's difficult to replace guys within one week. It's almost impossible with six-day testing. You have to have some fortune with your crystal ball."

And no one is complaining. Like Tobin says, "This is the world we live in. One thing is for sure for everyone in the country right now. Patience has been a mandatory thing for everybody."

Like Williams says, after he dressed for the last Super Bowl and didn't play the disappointment was definite, but, "There are things in life that happen and there's no point sitting around fussing about it."

And Williams has been sitting around for nearly two weeks. After playing in one game for the Patriots this season, they put him on the practice squad and when they released him Oct. 2 they told him they were looking to re-sign him.

But after the Bengals watched defensive tackle Mike Daniels hurt his elbow badly enough to go on injured reserve the day before that, Bengals director of pro scouting Steven Radicevic reached out to his agent.

The Pats had kept Williams in their testing protocol, so he found himself walled up in his hotel room at Patriot Place for a few days until he heard from the Bengals. But once Williams saw the Bengals wanted to put him on the active roster, the deal was done.

Yet once he pulled into Cincinnati early in the week, Williams discovered he had to kill time in another hotel room, this one in The AC on The Banks, just a Burrow bullet from the stadium and a Rivers rainbow from the river.

"People ask me, 'What are you doing?" Williams says of those numerous calls with family and friends. "Nothing. Nothing at all."

In the wake of the Titans outbreak, the league had doubled its protocol from three days until a free agent could come off the street to six. Actually, the rule didn't take effect until this Tuesday, but the Bengals are adamant about keeping their current roster healthy.

Mark Herren, the Bengals director of security, and director of operations Jeff Brickner have been keeping keen eyes on local and national developments. NFL teams have been discovering that it is taking longer for the virus to present itself.

"It was recommend that teams heed it immediately even though it was going to be officially implemented (this Tuesday) and we chose that path," Tobin says of the six-day rule. "We want to do whatever we can to protect the team and the people we already have here."

So Williams began each day by walking over to PBS and the testing trailer.

"That lasts all of three minutes and then I'd start my exploration for the day," Williams says. "I must have walked a couple of miles along the river. I'd hang out in the room, then stretch my legs. There's a work-out room in the hotel and I'd hang out there a little bit. That was convenient. I'd jog a little bit on the treadmill. There's not much for weights. Fifty-pound dumb bells."

On his second team in the pandemic, Williams knows the drill. The Bengals reminded him to be safe and pretty much stay to himself. That's what players, coaches, and staff are told to do on the road. Stay in the room except for a walk if you want.

"I got take-out food at Ruth Chris, The Yard House, places around here," Williams says.

He also got some Cincinnati chili because one of his buddies who is always listening to podcasts says that's one of the things people talk about when they talk about Cincy. Williams likes the town. "The stadium is in a cool place." He says it's similar to Kansas City, which is 20 minutes from where he played at Grandview High School. Except he says downtown Cincinnati is more built up.

He's married with a wife and a five-year-old daughter named for the city where they settled. Phoenix. His first three years in the league were with the Cardinals.

"Yeah, I Face Time them a lot. That's what I do in my free time," Williams says.

He likes to read if he's not reporting to The Office. He's finishing up David Goggins' book, "Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds." If it's fiction it's going to be about Star Wars.

"I just got through with a timeline book about a month ago," he says. "It was really good."

He watched Sunday's game in Baltimore, the first NFL game he's watched, he figures, in about two years because, "I should know something about the team before I walk in there."

"I was pretty impressed with what they did against the Ravens. I think they matched up with their physicality pretty well," Williams says. "I think the quarterback Burrow looked pretty solid for a young quarterback to go against a defense with that style. I'm excited to be here. Those guys are growing and competing, which I think is the No. 1 thing."

The Bengals had their eye on Williams even before he was released and as their D-Tackles took shot after shot. He's on the right side of 30 and has played some quality snaps in the middle. His 310 pounds supply needed young but seasoned girth. While he was watching Sunday, he saw the defensive tackles absorb their greatest loss of a terrible season. D.J. Reader, their valuable nose tackle and best interior run player, went down for the year with a torn quad tendon.

"It compounded everything," Williams says.

Even though Williams replaced Reader on the roster, he was already here ready to play with Reader in Baltimore if the protocol hadn't changed. The injury and signing made Radicevic and Tobin look like seers, but Tobin knows that's the way it's going to have to be the rest of the way. Anticipate two or three weeks ahead to get guys they think they'll need on site in time.

"You have to project need," Tobin says. "We were fortunate we projected with Xavier and had a guy in the building when we had a bad outcome with D.J. It's a hard process for players transitioning to new clubs. The players are being good and patient. We're trying to forecast needs into the future."

Williams is just happy to get out of the room.

"I'm hoping," he says, "I can come in and help."