Running back Kolby Smith donned full pads and participated in practice for the first time in nearly a calendar year, after suffering a knee injury in Week 7 last season. For one of KC's newest additions, nose tackle Kenny Smith, the road to recovery was even longer, as it's been six years since his last appearance in a regular season game.
"It was great to see him out there," said Todd Haley of Kolby Smith. "He's a guy that I'm really excited to kind of see. He's been working very hard. You guys probably know him a little better than I do over on that side, but I know he probably was really excited to be out there. It looked like he had some fresh legs, and he was working hard. There's going to be some rust, obviously, as long and as far a comeback as this has been for him."
Wednesday will also be Haley's first chance to evaluate Kenny Smith first-hand after a full practice.
"I've watched a little bit of tape," he said. "I know the player just because he's been around a little bit and we've had to play against him some, but he's a guy we worked out last week, or two weeks ago, and a situation came about where we have an opening."
With a veritable logjam at running back that's caused even Jamaal Charles to be deactivated for a game this season, getting on the field won't be easy for Kolby Smith. Now that he's back at practice, the Chiefs have three weeks to either place him on the active roster, release him, or place him on injured reserve. If he's going to contribute this season, he'll have to impress early.
"I don't want it to be three weeks before I play again," said Smith. "I've been out long enough."
Kenny Smith is in a completely different situation, as the Tank Tyler trade has left the Chiefs in dire need of big defensive linemen who can clog the middle. Haley said the Chiefs would expect Smith to contribute immediately.
"We don't have a lot of noses on the roster, so he's going to be expected to get into it pretty fast," said Haley. "We've been taking six linemen to the game, and that's the number we're at right now, so whether it's him or a practice squad guy, we've got to obviously have enough guys at the game to compete."
Smith knows he‘ll be called upon pretty early.
"I feel like I'm in a shape to go out there and give it 15, 20 (snaps) maybe more; it just depends on the situation," he said. "I've been working hard in the Florida heat, so the only thing that's different is coming in, getting in a game, and being able to bump around with different players."
Not only is Smith facing the challenge of playing on a new team immediately, he's doing it in a position he's not had a ton of experience with. At 6-foot-4 and 303 pounds, he doesn't have the quintessential nose-tackle body. However, Haley said Smith was "stout" enough to play the position.
"He is strong," said Haley. "You shake his hands, he's got bear mitts. He caught my pinkie pretty quick; I had to yank it out of there. He's a strong guy. I look forward to kind of watching the tape and seeing what everybody thought of him after one day."
Week 7 against a division rival isn't exactly the best time for a player to take their lumps at a new position, but Smith acts as though he has enough experience at nose to deliver a few lumps of his own.
"I played the nose in New Orleans and New England," he said. "On regular downs I haven't, but I feel like it's no different than an end technique. We're all playing the two gap. It's kind of the same, just got a little more weight and got to put a little more butt in it."
Having been out of regular-season action for six seasons, the perception might be that Smith has one nagging injury that's kept him out of the game, but he disagrees.
"I was off two years, came off the shoulder injury, went out to New England, I lost my mom, took that year off, Bill brought me back, and everything came together," he said. "I got off a lot of weight I had on and I felt myself coming back last year preseason, and had a pretty good year, so I kept that in the back of my head and just kept pushing myself in the Florida heat."
Whether you find yourself out for six years like Kenny Smith or one like Kolby Smith, the long road back is a bumpy one.
"It gets frustrating -- waiting and sitting back and watching football every Sunday, and seeing guys that you know you're better than, but you know, they had the opportunity," said Kenny Smith. "I had the opportunity, but unfortunately, ran across a little injury bug. I didn't give up on it. I kept pushing myself and I knew what I wanted in my life. I know football is a thing for me, so I just kept at it."
"At first it wasn't fun, but as you know, it all has a purpose of me getting back to where I am today," said Kolby Smith. "I'm thankful for going through that, but I'm happy to be back on the field today."
One injury can really suck the momentum straight out of a career - just ask Mike Maslowski or Bo Jackson. Both attempted comebacks, but never reached the heights they previously enjoyed. If Kolby Smith can complete his comeback successfully, he'll have cleared that hurdle, able to move on and have a fruitful career.
Kenny Smith, who's suffered through six long years of scratching and clawing to get his NFL career back on track (and is also 32), will have pulled off a miracle if he makes it back. His effort and desire are already praiseworthy, but if the NFL doesn't work out, he's already got a head start on a second career as a motivational speaker.
"Once you got a dream, never give up on it," said Smith. "That's what I tell people today. When I talk to kids, once you got a dream, the only time you give up on it is when you let yourself down, and I never did that. I kept pushing myself, and (the opportunity) came to me."
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