Spending rookie year watching from the sideline would be difficult enough for most players, but being on injured reserve two years in a row would seem to offer unimaginable frustration and regret. That is unless you happen to have the optimistic outlook of the Bears' Dusty Dvoracek, who prefers to view the first portion of his NFL career as a learning experience."What was I supposed to do?" Dvoracek rhetorically asked Wednesday after a strenuous workout at the Halas Hall conditioning facility. "Sit around and wallow in self pity? I suppose that could have been an option, but not for me. I always try to make the best of any situation, and this was no different. I chose to view the situation so ultimately this would turn out to be to my advantage."
Dvoracek's first disappointment occurred during training camp in 2006, when he went down with a season-ending foot injury.
"Although I couldn't play football, it was one of those situations where you don't have to necessarily take remedial action right away," Dvoracek said. "And in retrospect, that kind of made things worse because I had a lot of time to think about my misfortune. When the doctors did decide on a course of action, I felt much better psychologically. I guess I'm the type of guy who needs to know things are progressing in a positive way."
As soon as he received medical clearance, Dvoracek hit the gym and worked to get back in shape.
"I'm a professional," he said. "I'm not about to let my physical condition slide."
At the same time, he took the opportunity to attend team meetings and study as much film as he could get his hands on.
"Interestingly enough," Dvoracek described, "since I wasn't going to be out on the field, I never had to learn the game-specific plans each week. That freed me up to do some in-depth study on other players at my position in the NFL and also the opportunity to do some advanced scouting on players who I might be facing later in my career. I learned a lot and matured both as a person and as a player."
But what about the difficulty of prowling the sideline while his teammates lined up for Super Bowl XLI last February?
"Same deal," Dvoracek said. "I wasn't jealous or angry at all. I just enjoyed the entire experience through their eyes. I helped out as much as I could through the season by telling the defense what I saw on the field during games. And I picked up a lot of pointers just watching the veterans in action. You'd be surprised how helpful that can be."
As training camp 2007 rolled around, Dvoracek was once again ready to play and couldn't wait to see some game-time action.
DT Dusty Dvoracek
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
"I had a good camp and felt that I had progressed significantly in my skills," he said. "I was so ready to get in there."
Dvoracek's power and work ethic impressed his coaches enough to ensure him a starting spot during the initial contest of the regular season against the Chargers, until he tore his left ACL shortly before halftime.
"I was shocked, but just briefly," he remembered. "What was I going to do? Give up? I spent years of effort to reach this level, and I wasn't about to throw it all away just because of a few setbacks. Look at Mike Brown. He never gave up either."
Surprisingly enough, Dvoracek said that he never had a "Why me?" moment. Instead, he just headed back to the workout room once his knee was stabilized sufficiently.
"If anything, it was easier the second time," Dvoracek said. "That's because it was apparent that surgery was the only option and that the procedure had to be done immediately. That got me back on the road to recovery pretty soon. And really, by this time I knew the drill. I followed my doctor's orders, and I was cleared to start re-establishing my conditioning remarkably soon."
In fact, Dvoracek said that the medical staff that treated him has been amazed at the speed of his healing thus far.
"I've heard that this type of injury usually takes from 8-9 months to resolve itself," he said. "It hasn't been nearly that long, and I'm doing very well. My doctor told me exactly that just last week. I've been able to maintain most of my muscle tone. I can work on the elliptical. I also swim quite a bit. I haven't been cleared yet to run, but I'm not expecting that to be too far in the future.
Dvoracek feels that he will be ready to practice without restriction by OTAs in the spring, which should bring him up to speed by the time training camp begins for 2008. One question, however: Will he be hesitant to play at 100 percent due to fear of yet another injury?
"No, no" Dvoracek laughed. "I look at it this way. Before I went to the Bears, I figured that during my entire professional career I'd probably have two major injuries. Well, there they were. The tough part is behind me. From now on, I'm going to have some fun and just play."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for seven years and is the Author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.
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