And now, with the team’s mandatory minicamp starting today, we bring you this perspective from two pretty prominent fellow quick-healers — Hall of Fame cornerback Rod Woodson and Chargers Pro Bowler Philip Rivers.
Woodson tore his ACL in the Steelers’ 1995 season-opener, and returned post-surgery for that January’s Super Bowl, becoming the first NFL player to come back from the surgery in the same season he was injured. Rivers took it one step further, playing through a torn ACL in the 2007 AFC Championship Game. The Chargers quarterback underwent surgery on Jan. 23, 2008, was back for minicamp 100 days later, and didn’t miss so much as an OTA practice as he rehabbed and returned.
On top of what Rivers said in the story, he also discussed the approach a professional athlete — naturally built to push himself — has to take in coming back.
“There’s a protocol in how to go about it,” Rivers said. “It was May and June for me, and I was trying to go. But they were monitoring my reps pretty closely. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to play (in real, live games at that time of year).
“From knowing what I know about Wes, he’d hate to watch them go without him. But I know there was always a fine line there. They’re gonna be monitoring it.”
It’s been some time since Welker and Rivers have talked, but the Chargers quarterback still remembers plenty about the plucky receiver he came in with as a Class of 2004 rookie, which is part of how he’s built his opinion on this one.
“He’s just a football player, and I think that’s always the ultimate compliment you can give a guy and, certainly, you can say that about Wes,” Rivers. “What he was, was the guy where you could tell him what to do and he would go right out and do it. He could play the ‘Z’, the ‘X’, the slot, return punts, kicks; He was so smart, and that’s why he was quickly a team favorite in camp. Then he runs a punt back (in a preseason game), and you thought he was here to stay. But he escaped us.
“But he’s just a super smart guy and a football player. The kind of guy you can’t have too many of. … You knew he wasn’t going to be a practice-squad-and-fizzle-out guy. You knew he was going to be a player for all those reasons I mentioned, so versatile and so smart, and just that type of competitor.”
As the story goes, the Chargers traded for Clinton Hart from the Eagles and had to make room, so they cut Welker, hoping he’d slip through the waiver wire and make it on to their practice squad. That didn’t happen. He was scooped up by Nick Saban and the Dolphins, and the rest is history.
So, yes, Rivers has plenty of reason to believe in Welker. Woodson may not know Welker personally, or have shared a practice field with him, but he can see enough on tape to share Rivers’ optimism.
“One thing to look for is whether he’s going to be as sharp,” Woodson said. “It’s his left knee, so you watch how he plants and goes right. Does he favor it, or does he plant? Or does he plant with his inside foot and round it off? Can he stop on his left leg? Those are the questions.
“Once I saw (the video), I knew he blew out his ACL, but I also knew if he didn’t damage the cartilage, he was gonna be OK because technology’s so vastly improved. I know Wes is a tough, gritty guy. He’s got that mentality. He’s no diva receiver. Just tough and gritty and gets his work done. He’s blue collar in that same category as Hines Ward, so I knew he’d be back.”
What Woodson said is key, of course — That Welker didn’t damage the cartilage. Another piece of detail in the story today is that Welker’s ACL graft came from his patellar tendon, which could cause some more pain in the short-term, but produce a better long-term result.
As you might expect, all eyes will be on Wes today. And we’ll bring you a detailed report following the lunchtime practice session.