Swain tore an ACL in the Cleveland game on Oct. 25. In six games, he hadn't caught a pass but made four tackles on special teams — including a key stop of the Bears' Garrett Wolfe to thwart a fake punt in the opener.
Since surgery, Swain has been rehabbing, getting stronger and building up his conditioning so he'll be ready to roll when training camp begins on July 31.
"I feel pretty good," he told Packer Report last week. "They have a very strict schedule that they work with us on our rehab and our conditioning and getting us ready for when we're supposed to return. If you keep hitting those targets, most likely when you come back, you're going to be fine."
History, however, isn't on Swain's side. When doing a story on Nick Barnett's recovery from a torn ACL for the Cover Story of the February 2010 magazine — as well as a companion piece on the season-ending ACL injuries sustained by Aaron Kampman and Al Harris — I talked to noted ACL authority Dr. James Carey, an assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Vanderbilt.
Over a five-year period in which he studied wide receivers and running backs who suffered a torn ACL, Carey noted that 21 percent of those players never made it back to the NFL. The vast majority of those players are the fringe players who had to scratch and claw for a roster spot, since the downturn in ability was just enough to cost them their job to a younger, healthier player.
Swain was a seventh-round pick in 2008 who spent his rookie season on the practice squad. In 2009, he beat out Ruvell Martin to earn a roster spot.
"Of the ones that got back, their performance on average was reduced by about one-third," Carey said. "When compared to the control athletes, like all the non-ACL injured running backs and wide receivers, that was statistically significant, so it wasn't just the general decline that you'd see as people age."
The offseason leader in the race to be the fifth receiver is Patrick Williams, who as an undrafted rookie spent part of last season out of the league, a month-and-a-half on the practice squad and the last month as a gameday inactive on the 53-man roster. He's a physical receiver but it remains to be seen whether he can fill Swain's niche on special teams. The rookies — Jeff Moturi, Chastin West and Shawn Gore — as well as former Arena Leaguer Charles Dillon all have flashed but none have consistently jumped out.
"Definitely, I'm going to be behind on the reps after missing OTAs, missing minicamp," Swain said. "I'm definitely going to be behind on the reps. But that's where you've got to take that as another challenge and put it forth in the classroom. You've got to be putting in mental reps in the classroom, you've got to be watching practice, you've got to be preparing yourself to put yourself in those shoes when it's your turn to make plays. It's important to stay on top of all aspects of the playbook."
Asked if there was anything positive that came out of last year's injury, Swain thought for a moment before tackling the question with the vigor that he's tackled his rehab.
"When you think of it as an injury, you think of it as being a ‘football injury.' It comes with the territory," he said. "Injuries come along with being a football player. You've got to be ready to stick and move when injuries occur. If you let it eat you up, odds are you're not going to come back as good as you were before. You've got to be ready to overcome anything."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.