From afar, Vikings fans have wondered exactly how quickly Daunte Culpepper will be able to return to the field.
Friday, reporters in Miami got their first look at Culpepper on a practice field, the first time he has taken a snap in front of the public since tearing three ligaments in his knee on Oct. 30, 2005 as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
According to Alain Poupart of Dolphin Digest, Culpepper looked pretty good considering the circumstances and only being seven months removed from his serious injury. Poupart said Culpepper didn't display much of a limp, except for one time when he dropped back gingerly.
"The highlight of the morning practice came when he scrambled during team drills and ran – albeit not that fast – about 50 yards downfield," Poupart said.
Before Friday's display, Culpepper had been working out in team sessions that were not open to the media. All the input on Culpepper's progress had been coming through players occasionally made available to reporters.
"He's a great athlete. He's looked great in practice. And he's still got the deep ball. He hit us today on a deep ball. He was scrambling today," linebacker Zach Thomas said last week. "I looked at him when I came up to make the tackle. I wasn't going to tackle him because we don't have pads, but he's the first quarterback I would ever hit low because he outweighs me by 40 pounds. He's a big guy. He looks good out there. He's running around good. So he was a big pick-up for us."
Wide receiver Chris Chambers also had high praise for Culpepper.
"When you do have a quarterback of that caliber, it just makes the people around him a lot better. I can see why Minnesota was very successful with their receivers and the tight ends and running backs – because of that guy. He does a lot. He's a great leader. I'm glad to have him aboard. I'm sure everybody else is," Chambers said. "He throws a great ball. He throws a nice spiral, the best ball I've seen since I've been here. … You do see a difference between an elite quarterback and everyone else.
"We were out there throwing the ball around a little bit in practice and he threw a ball that I thought was never going to come out of the air. I just kept running and it was right on the money. You expect that to happen, but it felt (good) to be connecting with him early on right now."
Dolphins head coach Nick Saban said Culpepper is ready to resume fairly normal quarterbacking activities.
"The doctors have told us that what he needs to do right now is things that he needs to do at his position, that he has the strength and stability to do everything that he needs to do at his position," Saban said. "And the best part, the next step of his rehab, would be to do things that he does at his position and play his position. Even if he may not be 100 percent in terms of his mobility or movement, it's still the best rehab for him right now as well as the rest of what he does in his rehab to continue to develop."
Chambers said that Culpepper is a fun guy to be around and that the quarterback feels good about his rehabilitation.
"He expressed a lot of confidence actually before he even got here. He pretty much promised me he was going to go out there and do well and do whatever he can to help our team even back before we actually got him," Chambers said. "I spoke with him. You can kind of sense the chip that he had on his shoulder about coming out here and proving everybody he can come out here and play at an elite level that he played a couple of years ago."
Chambers said that Culpepper knows when to throw with touch and when to use his arm strength. Linebacker Channing Crowder joked that Culpepper throws the ball so hard that it hurts.
Running back Fred Beasley had nothing but good things to say about playing in the same backfield as Culpepper: "I'm on Cloud Nine and hopefully I can stay up there."
Crowder said when Culpepper tucked the ball and started running a couple weeks ago, players made sure not to touch him for fear of losing their employment if they took Culpepper out of commission again in 2006.
"All the coaches were nervous that nobody would touch him. I don't want to go home. You touch Culpepper and I'm right back in Atlanta," Crowder said. "I'm not going back there, so I'm not going to hit him. Hopefully he's back because I know what kind of player he is."
Miami Teammates Give Culpepper Strong Reviews
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