Kevin Smith is finally about ready to begin his return.
The third-year Lions running back, who is recovering from a torn knee ligament suffered in December, will participate in most of the team's drills beginning with Wednesday's mini-camp. It will be the first time that Smith has put on a helmet since his injury.
"I'm not going to do much, but I'm definitely going to do some team stuff," Smith said. "This is the first time I've done that. I've been doing individual and just building up.
Smith narrowed his participation to 7-on-7 passing drills and team running drills, but it's a significant leap from sitting and stretching on the sideline. He's also aware of what's at stake if a return isn't imminent.
Despite an impressive rookie campaign in each he rushed for 976 yards as a rookie, and tacked on another 747 yards in 13 games in 2009, the organization took out insurance in April for Smith with the drafting of Cal's Jahvid Best.
The Lions spent a first-round pick on Best, immediately compromising Smith's leverage in the team's backfield. The two have a solid working relationship: "He's probably like my big brother right now," Best said of Smith. "He's just giving me pointers. He's just staying on me, making sure I know what I'm doing when I'm out there."
But while Best has taken that opportunity to impress the coaching staff with his skill and versatility, Smith has been forced to watch.
Six months into rehabilitating his left knee, the former third-round pick has seen enough.
"I hope to be practicing (in late July)," Smith said. "I don't see why I'm not going to be practicing. Put it that way. So my hope is more to stay consistent and keep going and not have any step-backs. That's the tricky thing, because I can run around.
"I just played basketball the other day, and I was pretty nice. So I feel good. It's a blessing, but I've been working hard. I've been rehabbing hard."
Although Smith's status took a hit, his ambition has not. Always noted for a heavy dose of optimism that bordered on egotism, Smith still plans on being mentioned in the same breath as the rest of the runners in his draft class. Among them, Tennessee's Chris Johnson, Chicago's Matt Forte, and Baltimore's Ray Rice.
"Down the road, they're going to be talking about this draft class of running backs as one of the best, and I want to be part of that conversation," Smith wrote on his smith34.com web site blog.