Gary Baxter trotted onto the field at the Browns Monday evening practice and shot a thumbs-up to fans and onlookers, his very presence on the field a stunning development given the dual patellar tears he suffered during a game last October against the Broncos.
At the time, predictions of Baxter's doom echoed through hospitals and the media, as the Browns cornerback was told that he might not walk again. Playing football seemed like a distant, unachievable dream.
But there he was on the practice field in Berea, his presence proving his doubters wrong. The Browns corner participated in various drills during practice, including activities that had him backpedalling and turning tight corners.
Baxter practiced without any obvious signs of pain or even braces on his surgically repaired knees.
"No braces, nothing on there", Baxter told reporters. "There's not even a brace to fit my injury. That's how rare it is. I'm just going to go out there and test the water. That's what I did. I told you guys before that it was uncharted water. I'm going to write the script. If there's a book to be written, I'm going to write it. That's what I'm doing."
Covering receivers in practice may still be sometime in the future, but Baxter is confident it will happen, and potentially soon.
"The key to this whole rehab is that I'm not going to pressure myself to go out there and prove a point", Baxter said, "I'm going to continue to be smart and listen to my body. If I feel like I need the rest, I'm going to take the rest. I'm going to do what I need to do to be ready for the first week. If I need to do one-on-ones, I'll do it. If I feel I need to do individuals for a week, I'll do it.
Whatever my body tells me, that's what I'm going to do. Who knows, I might be seven-on-seven next week."
At this point, few will doubt him, or his recuperative powers.
Single patellar tears have knocked out many veteran NFL players. The Browns' LeCharles Bentley, for example, has been out of action since July 27th of last year due to a patellar tear. Coming back from having both knees ripped up in this fashion is unheard of in NFL history.
Baxter is fully aware of how unique his quick return to the game happens to be.
"Me being on this field today is history", he told reporters.
"This is July 30 and doctors said this wasn't even in the plans. This wasn't in any book."
Keep reading, Browns fans. Every page that gets turned will be something new in the history of the game.
DUELING QUARTERBACKS: Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson continue to both get opportunities to work with the first team. Anderson may have had a slight edge this evening, but both quarterbacks had nice moments. Frye under-threw several passes, including one that was swatted away by CB Daven Holly
Anderson and Kellen Winslow timed up with a nice pass and catch during scrimmaging, and Frye found Braylon Edwards twice. The earlier portion of practice was marred by dropped passes, including an easy catch that was muffed by Tim Carter. Both Josh Cribbs and Syndric Steptoe made impressive catches during the practice.
OFFENSIVE PLOT-LINE THICKENS: Head coach Romeo Crennel has claimed a number of times that Joe Thomas would have to unseat Kevin Shaffer from the left tackle role. Even if that is technically true, Shaffer is already seeing a lot of time at right tackle. The team's starting left tackle in 2006 was lined up on the right side almost exclusively this evening, with Kelly Butler playing RT on the second team.
VIOLENT COLLISION: The hardest impact of the day was the one LB Chaun Thompson made with WR Steve Sanders. Both players got up and walked away unharmed. NT Ted Washington trotted off the field about hour into practice, and came back later sans helmet and pads, although he did not appear injured. Washington's veteran (and large) status appears to occasionally afford him a break from the heat.