Giants RB Andre Williams catches a pass from QB Eli...

Giants RB Andre Williams catches a pass from QB Eli Manning during practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, N.J. on July 23, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

A day after the Giants learned that David Wilson never would play another down, they got back to business against the sobering backdrop of his premature retirement because of persistent neck problems. It wasn't easy, with teammates and coaches reminded once more how quickly this game can be taken away.

"If I was told in my third year that you shouldn't play football anymore for health reasons, that would be a tough thing to swallow,'' Eli Manning said. "It's tough for a young guy to know your football dream is over.''

But in this punishing sport, it is next man up, regardless of the circumstances. In this case, that's fourth-round rookie tailback Andre Williams. Even if Wilson had been able to play, the Giants likely would have included Williams in a rotation with Rashad Jennings. But with Wilson gone, Williams is expected to see plenty of time.

If Sunday night's preseason opener was any indication, Williams looks ready to step into a significant role. He had seven carries for 48 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown in a 17-13 win over the Bills in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.

Yes, it is still very early, but when you watch how Wilson's practicing translates so seamlessly into a game situation, the Giants at least can be encouraged they've found a serviceable back. Especially now that they'll need him even more.

"Coaches tell you all the time you're going to play how you practice,'' Williams said Tuesday. "So I wasn't surprised. I just want to make sure that during the week in practice, I'm preparing myself for what I'm going to see in the game.''

Even so, it wasn't perfect. Most of the Bills' first-string defense was on the sideline when Williams was on the field, so he understands there's plenty of work ahead.

"When you get to the film room and you're really getting critiqued, you always see how you could have done better,'' he said. "It was the first game. I got my feet wet. It was a good experience for me, but there were definitely a lot of things I could have done better.''

Still, there's a lot to like about him, even if Williams wasn't considered an elite talent in a draft class that didn't have a running back go in the first round. A part-timer his first three seasons at Boston College, he exploded with 2,102 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior. He led the nation in rushing and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

So we're not talking about just another tailback. We're talking about a guy who looks as if making the jump to the NFL is not really all that big a deal.

"I don't think the game was that much faster,'' he said after seeing his first live action. "I think I've kept up, but the players are definitely faster. And the defensive backs carry a little more weight. But I think the Giants drafted me because they had confidence in my ability to play at this level, and I'm going to embrace that and understand that I can play on this level.''

If Williams can approach the level of his favorite back, the Giants will have something.

"I just try to pattern myself after Adrian Peterson,'' Williams said. "I like how violent he is as a runner. He gets to top speed as soon as the ball is snapped. I like how he uses his hands and shoulders as weapons. I really try to incorporate that into my game.''

Williams will start as the understudy to Jennings, the former Raider who signed a four-year, $10-million deal. But if Williams continues to look comfortable, there will be ample opportunity. Especially if he masters the one skill that coaches scrutinize as much as running: pass blocking.

"The technique can always be worked on, but if you're not solid on the scheme, you're not going to be able to learn what you need to do once you have to adjust to a different situation,'' he said. "The pass protection is pretty basic. It's the adjustments that come afterward that really make it kind of challenging.''

Does he have pass protection down?

"I do feel comfortable that I have it down to a good degree,'' he said.

Tough week and a tough break for Wilson, who still left an impression on Williams during their brief time together.

"David was a really dynamic running back,'' Williams said. "He was always upbeat. People feed off of that, so we're going to miss his energy.''

Now it's up to Williams to replace some of that energy. He believes he's up to the task.