Brian Winters remembers everything about the moment his 2017 season went off the rails. He remembers the time, the place, the play, and without question, the pain.
"It was second quarter in Oakland (in Week 2) with five minutes to go before half when we were driving in to the north end zone. I still remember it like it was yesterday," said the 26-year-old guard. "It was an outside zone play and (running back) Bilal (Powell) was trying to stretch it outside of me, so I went to continue to push my guy through. And as soon as I pushed through I felt like a pop."
The pop was what he eventually revealed were "completely" torn abdominal and abductor muscles which caused what he described "horrendous" season-long pain. Somehow he missed only one week, and then fought his way through until he finally shut it down in mid-December.
It's a season Winters said he would rather not relive.
"Oh, it was horrendous," he said on Monday. "I wouldn't give that pain to even my worst enemy. It was something that was very tough and hurtful, from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed. Not only when I was doing stuff. Just walking in general was painful."
That was then. Now, Winters is back in Florham Park, N.J., for the start of the Jets' offseason workout program, which opened on Monday morning. He said his rehab from surgery "went well" and that he's "fully cleared" to do whatever the Jets need him to do to get ready for the season.
And he's hoping that with the injury now far enough behind him, he can quickly rediscover his old form.
"(I want) to be a dominant offensive lineman in the league," Winters said. "I was on the right track the year before, and then this injury happened unfortunately. So a little setback. I want to go out and be a force."
That, of course, is exactly what the Jets had in mind last offseason when they signed him to a four-year, $29 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. They saw the 6-foot-4, 320-pounder whom they drafted in the third round out of Kent State in 2013 as a cornerstone of their future offensive line. He appeared to be one of the top young linemen in the league.
Of course, that wasn't evident last season. Winters looked average at best, and the Jets' offensive line waffled between average and awful. They finished 19th in rushing during their 5-11 season and they gave up 47 sacks, the seventh-highest total in the league.
Winters was a big reason for that. He just never told anyone outside the organization why. No one knew the reason he wasn't able to "be myself."
"I wasn't able to do anything," he said. "The year before, I was healthy, and I felt great. That's who I am. That's how I play. I wasn't able to do any of that (last year). Going into a game, I felt like I was walking on eggshells, because I didn't want to do anything to take me out of the game. So I was playing very conservative. I wasn't able to be myself. I wans't able to be the type of player that I am.
"So it was tough. It was a tough year. It was tough mentally."
Now, with a fresh start and renewed health, Winters is confident that he and the Jets' entire offensive line will be much better. They return the same starting group, with new center Spencer Long replacing Wes Johnson.
The biggest addition, though, could turn out to be their newly healthy right guard.
"To me, it's going to be a game changer," Winters said. "If you put an offensive guard out there with one leg, and try to do what he's supposed to do, it's kind of tough. I understand what you guys saw and what all the fans saw. I get that. But us as a group and us as a team, we're excited. We got new pieces and everyone's healthy across the board. It should be fun."