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Damien Williams’ excitement to fit in with the Chicago Bears makes him feel like ‘one of the rookie kids’ after a year away from the NFL because of COVID-19 concerns

Damien Williams has played six seasons in the NFL, but the new Chicago Bears running back said he felt like “one of the rookie kids” when he stepped on the practice field for organized team activities this month at Halas Hall.

Williams, 29, said most people understood why he opted out of the 2020 season just six months after scoring two touchdowns in the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV victory over the San Francisco 49ers. His mother was battling cancer in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and he wanted to take care of her, he announced at the time.

That doesn’t mean it was easy watching the NFL season march on and wondering if his decision would affect his career.

“You’re thinking, ‘Oh, man, you’re sitting at home. You’re missing a year out,’ ” Williams said Wednesday during a video conference call. “That affects you at the end of the day just because you’re not out there doing the reps, putting the time in. But that’s when you sit at home and really grind. When no one’s watching, that’s when you want to work the hardest. So coming back was really easy.”

Williams is one of a handful of Bears players who opted out of either their NFL or college seasons because of COVID-19 — a list that includes nose tackle Eddie Goldman, wide receiver Marquise Goodwin and rookie cornerback Thomas Graham Jr.

Williams told CNN’s Anderson Cooper at the time of his decision that he had friends whose parents died of COVID-19, and he wanted to be there for his mom, who had raised four children on her own.

“I’ve seen my mom do it all,” Williams said. “She can juggle it all. Right now, I’m taking her pain away and I’m going to do the juggling. I’m going to handle it all right now.”

Handling it all didn’t include football work at first. Williams said he didn’t work out much as the NFL season began, but he started getting back into shape about two months into the season as the itch to play again grew.

“Being at home and watching it, it really made me feel like this is something I want to do as long as possible, until the wheels fall off,” he said. “So I knew I wasn’t ready to sit down at home.”

While Williams was out, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a first-round pick last year, led the Chiefs in rushing with 181 carries for 803 yards. Third-year running back Darrel Williams had 39 carries for 169 yards and re-signed with the team in March.

With that duo back again this season, the Chiefs released Damien Williams in mid-March after he totaled 754 rushing yards and nine touchdowns and 373 receiving yards and four touchdowns in two seasons with the team.

He also rushed for 104 yards, had four catches for 29 yards and scored both of his touchdowns in the final three minutes of the Super Bowl victory, a performance that prompted the Chiefs to tweet he would “be remembered forever in the #ChiefsKingdom” upon releasing him.

Williams decided to join the Bears on a one-year contract because he wanted to play in a system that was similar to Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s. The Bears and former Reid protégé Matt Nagy were an easy fit even though Nagy never coached Williams.

“With Nagy, he came from the same system, the same place that I did,” Williams said. “We had a talk: ‘(This is) how I’m going to use you — how you were really used in KC as far as putting you out wide, running the ball, just coming in here being a football player.’ ”

Nagy said he likes the versatility Williams brings as a complement to David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen.

In four seasons with the Miami Dolphins and two with the Chiefs, Williams totaled 1,231 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns and 1,106 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.

“He’s very well-rounded,” Nagy said. “I was not with Damien in Kansas City, but the coaches that were there spoke really well of him and said really good things. And so Damien’s come in here like a true pro and just digested everything that we’re doing.”

Williams is the most veteran player in the running backs room and said while he gives bits of advice to Montgomery and Cohen, they really don’t need much guidance from him. He called the group “hilarious,” another factor that has helped the transition.

“They’re all smiles, giggles and jokes,” Williams said. “When we come out on the field, we work hard. Being around those type of players, it makes you want to come to work and really just have fun.”