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Buzbee gets second chance
A year after rocketing from a rookie minicamp tryout to a roster spot in a playoff game, Alex Buzbee was primed to make an impact for the Washington Redskins last summer.
Buzbee, who recorded 27.5 sacks in four years at Division I-AA Georgetown, had worked feverishly for a chance to compete for the team’s fourth defensive end spot — only to take a wrong step in punt protection on the first day of training camp.
“I had never really been hurt, a little ankle sprain here and there, but nothing I couldn’t play through,” Buzbee said. “When I planted to go forward and accelerate, it felt like a bomb went off in my leg.”
Buzbee ruptured his right Achilles tendon. He faced eight to 12 months of rehab.
Strength coach John Hastings said the 6-foot-3, 275-pounder hadn’t missed a single day of the 2008 offseason conditioning program. Buzbee had gained almost 30 pounds since he first signed with the Redskins and was ready to fight for a roster spot at the time of the injury.
“For that to happen the first day of camp was just sickening,” Hastings said.
Said Buzbee’s father, Larry: “Alex was really emotional, very disappointed because he had worked so hard to get ready and thought he had a really good opportunity.”
Larry Buzbee took the train to the District that day, stayed with his son for a week after the July 21 surgery and then took him home. Their weekly visits with surgeon Chris Annuziata in Virginia went smoothly, but Buzbee remained frustrated and depressed.
“The first couple of weeks after I was hurt I was in a full cast, so I couldn’t move around,” Buzbee said. “It was tough, sitting around doing nothing. I watched way too much TV. I finally just told myself that it was part of the game, that it was totally out of my control. I could sit there and sulk, or I could work my butt off to try to come back.”
Buzbee, who has a government degree and interned for Rep. Peter King, New York Republican, while in school, had options that many NFL hopefuls don’t, but he wasn’t going to let one injury quash his dreams. Especially not after standing on the Redskins’ sideline in street clothes at the end of 2007.
So once the cast came off, Buzbee began to work in earnest to come back.
“It was definitely the longest season I’ve ever had,” Buzbee said. “There’s a sense of being alone. You’re in the training room doing stupid rehab drills, trying to balance on one foot while you look out the window and guys are practicing, getting better. It’s frustrating, but you just gotta try not to let it get to you.”
Words of encouragement from veteran offensive tackle Jon Jansen helped. Jansen had missed all of 2004 after rupturing his Achilles during the preseason opener but returned to start every game in 2005. Jansen sought out Buzbee after the injury and told him the Achilles wouldn’t end his career and that the rehab was “a patience issue, not a pain issue. The first three months all you’re doing is moving your foot up and down.”
The support of the Redskins, who put Buzbee on injured reserve at full pay rather than on the waived/injured list, meant a lot, too. Coach Jim Zorn, defensive coordinator Greg Blache and defensive line coach John Palermo all told Buzbee he was still in Washington’s plans.
“Why would I try to do anything else when I have the opportunity to play in the NFL?” Buzbee said. “I’ve got a brain that I can use for the rest of my life and get a job, but my body only lasts so long. … I’ve been doing drills, lifting and running 100s straight-ahead, but I won’t really know I’m back until I go out on the field and cut and react. I push off that right leg, so coming off the ball will be the biggest thing. I’m not at that point yet, but within two months I will be.”
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