So often injured players have to talk their way back into practice or game action. In Tim Hightower's case, after tearing the ACL in his left knee last season, it was a matter of testing it and seeing what happens.
Barring a setback, the Washington Redskins running back will make his preseason debut Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts.
"He didn't say one word to me. I just said, 'Hey, it looks like you're ready to go. Let's give it a shot.' He thought he was ready to go," coach Mike Shanahan said. "We just didn't want to put him out there too early."
Upon being told Thursday afternoon his coach gave him the blessing to play, Hightower was elated.
"This is huge, man. This is, wow. I don't even know what to say. I'm sure it will hit me Saturday when I get on that field, a little bit of nerves and all that stuff," he said. "It's definitely a blessing, man. I've been working for this for a long time, so it's a huge step for me."
Hightower returned to practice this week and has tried to progress each day with more carries. Thursday, he felt better and was able to do more things.
"Just small things: the explosiveness, making cuts at full speed, you're not slowing down upon your cuts, if you feel you're getting contact, you're not slowing down upon contact, you're not hesitating in the hole," Hightower said. "Different things that I feel myself progressing with and building with ultimately the confidence."
Mentally, Hightower has been ready for a while. Along the way, his body stopped him.
"It's been a roller coaster. You really wake up each day, you don't know how you're going to feel," he said. "My mind is ready to practice, to play, to do everything. But you just kind of take it day to day. This morning I woke up, I felt great. That was definitely a big step."
Shanahan was impressed at how Hightower looked going full speed on the practice field this week. It has been a test for Hightower's knee, but Saturday is another level.
"I'm not really thinking much about my knee. I put that in God's hands. We've got a great training staff here, a great strength coach. I trust their process and plan," he said. "I just want to a part of the guys and working toward this common goal. They've been out there building, and I've been watching them from the sideline build something special here; work together every single day; take steps in preseason and I just want to be a part of that process. The knee will take care of itself. I'm just fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be out there and play."
He won't start against the Colts; that duty is expected to go to rookie sixth-rounder Alfred Morris. But Hightower should get some playing time, which is especially important now with injuries to Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster.
Helu is out again with sore Achilles tendons. Royster hurt his right knee in practice a couple of days ago and will also miss the Indianapolis game.
"I'm not sure what happened. He said it didn't bother him at all in practice and he got up and it bothered him. That's why he wasn't able to go [Wednesday]," Shanahan said. "Not really sure what it was, but it's quite sore."
With Hightower perhaps not yet 100 percent (for the record, he said he didn't like to estimate what percentage he was at), the Redskins have a banged-up backfield. In addition to Helu and Royster, fullback Darrel Young is working his way back from a left hamstring issue that sidelined him three weeks.
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