RICHMOND — Chase Minnifield understands patience.
Noon crept closer, but the Washington Redskins rookie cornerback faced a half-dozen reporters with hands clasped behind his back. Every minute or two, Minnifield glanced toward the training facility. Another reporter arrived. So did a television camera.
The 89 other players on the training camp roster trickled past. Minnifield kept talking. The former University of Virginia star had endured too much to walk away. Endured enough to transform training camp’s drudgery of walk-throughs and 11-on-11 drills with the second and third teams into his salvation.
That patience starts with the right knee. There’s no brace. No limp. No complaints. Nothing to set the joint apart.
But the knee nearly derailed Minnifield’s professional career before he’s seen one regular season play.
“I was in a tough situation, an unfortunate situation,” he said. “A situation where if you were to write out your life, you wouldn’t want it to happen. But you’ve got to deal with trials and tribulations and come out stronger.”
Back in January 2012, he mentioned a “minor procedure” on the knee in an interview about his draft prospects. That turned out to be not-so-minor microfracture surgery. Predictions of him being picked in the draft’s third or fourth rounds — some speculation slotted him even higher — shattered into him not being selected.
Less than two months after signing with the Redskins, Minnifield tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the knee during rookie minicamp. As a high school senior, he tore the same ligament in the same knee.
Instead of showing the rest of the NFL that he was the draft’s steal, Minnifield showed up at Redskins Park every day during the season for rehabilitation, physical therapy and the same meetings the rest of the defensive backs attended.
“When you’re in meetings,” he said, “you’re part of the team because that’s not fun.”
So, Robert Griffin III, owner of Washington’s most talked-about joint, isn’t the only man in camp returning from two ACL tears in the same knee.
But Minnifield’s recovery doesn’t elicit daily questions. Doesn’t feature play-by-play of each small bit of progress. Doesn’t feature detailed questions about why he decided to play without a knee brace, while Griffin wears one. Doesn’t feature much attention at all, until, of course, those languid, story-starved days when the allure of a former Virginia player draws cameras and notebooks like one of Griffin’s weekly news conferences.
Minnifield started knocking off the rust of his extended absence during June’s minicamp. He needed to relearn body control. Not rushing. Patience.
In the process, he decided to play without a brace. The journey is familiar. He knows what he can and can’t do. Minnifield insists the knee feels fine, the same as the knee that helped him become a two-time first-team All-ACC pick at Virginia.
Days start at 6 a.m. Leg exercises. Stretching. Cold and hot tubs at various points throughout the day. Anything to keep the knee healthy. Encouragement came from his father, Frank, a four-time Pro Bowl selection during nine years playing defensive back for the Browns.
“I don’t take nothing for granted,” Minnifield said. “I do whatever it takes to come in here and play.”
There’s opportunity in a defensive backfield that surrendered the third-most passing yards in the NFL last season and gave up big plays as regularly as Griffin took hits running the football. But Minnifield’s task is daunting. While his microfracture surgery wasn’t as severe as, say, the career-crushing procedures former NBA top pick Greg Oden endured, the success of athletes returning from the procedure has been mixed.
Add the two ACL tears and the mileage on the 24-year-old’s knee is significant. That’s no small thing at a position where acceleration and flexibility are crucial in the NFL’s unforgiving, what-have-you-done-lately world. But he’s on the field, in the mix for a roster spot with a right knee that doesn’t hint at the trauma unless you know the story.
At 11:40 a.m., the questions finally ended. That patience has come at a steep price.
“This is not a guaranteed thing,” Minnifield said. “No matter what you do, you could go out on one play.”
He wasn’t in any hurry to leave.