Keith ready to make comeback complete

John Keith finally is back. And after more than a year on the sidelines, he is ready to contribute again for the 49ers and try to regain a spot he once owned in the team's future. The Niners signed Keith to their active roster earlier this week, and he's expected to play for the first time since the 2001 season opener on Sunday against Kansas City. Here, the third-year safety talks with <EM>SFI </EM>about the ordeal of his comeback and what he feels he can contribute to the team this season.

Q: John, how difficult has it been for you to have to wait so long and go through so much adversity to make it back onto the field with the Niners?

Keith: I mean, it's been pretty difficult, I guess, just knowing that I want to be out there, and at that point your body not letting you be out there. So, any time that's happening, it's kind of frustrating. But you've got to stay positive and you've got to know that you just need to be patient and everything is going to come through for you.

Q: What's the sense of fulfillment you have now after having to travel such a long, difficult road to make it back?

Keith: I've been waiting for this moment to come back and actually get a chance to play again. For a while, I didn't really know if this day would really come again, because it seemed so distant. But now that it's happening, obviously I'm happy and very joyful right now. But now's the time I have to go out there and prove my worth.

Q: Do you feel this is the first step to actually getting back in lineup and getting on the road you were headed toward when you were a rookie?

Keith: Hopefully, this is the first step to bigger and better things in my career. So hopefully I can just go out there and compete at the same level that I was. And at that point, the sky's the limit.

Q: Do you feel like you and your body are good enough now to play at an NFL level again?

Keith: I've been feeling great. Right now, I feel good enough to compete at the same level that I was. So we'll go out there and see what happens.

Q: Do you feel that having these extra two months on the practice squad to continue to work back into game shape could be a blessing in disguise for you?

Keith: Definitely. I feel like this is more so than earlier when I wanted to play and knew that I'm not all the way healthy, but I felt I could still go out there and compete, because I feel like I'm a tough guy. But I think like, right now, in the last three or four weeks, I've been feeling really good, I'm not going home sore, I'm feeling like I'm getting a second wind right now. So I think right now is the best time for me, as far as going out and feeling like I'm ready and I can go out there and contribute and not really question the knee at this point.

Q: Now that you're finally back, what kind of contributions are you expecting to make to this team this year?

Keith: I think this year my role is to make an impact on special teams and as a reserve safety. So, if any of the guys go down, they will look to me to come in and contribute. And, you know, I do have some experience and a little veteran leadership. So it's not like just putting a rookie back there.

Q: Do you feel like now you're back in the future plans here again, or do you still have a lot to prove?

Keith: I think at this point, it's all about my performance. Do I go back out there and be a disruptive force on special teams or at safety? Do I play at the same level as when I left? That's going to be the telltale sign. Hopefully, after the season, we can look back at it and be like, ‘OK, I'm back, and let's have a strong offseason and see what happens.'

Q: Coming out of college - and before you were injured as a rookie - they used to call you ‘Shakespeare' because you made so many plays. Are you starting to feel a little bit like Shakespeare again yet?

Keith: You know, I'm going to keep the Shakespeare on the down-low right now until I actually go out there and live up to that billing. So I'm just real excited about the future and being back out there and competing. This is what you dream of, and this is what you do. So I'm just ecstatic right now.


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