- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2000

GREELEY, Colo. As he sprinted downfield grinning after beating the defense with a trick play during practice yesterday morning at the University of Northern Colorado, Terrell Davis looked like a 10-year-old who has put one over on the teacher.

Davis' ability to run with the football 10 months after major knee surgery should put a smile on the faces of not only Denver Broncos rooters but all football fans. After losing Steve Young, Dan Marino, Michael Irvin, Barry Sanders and Davis' former teammate, John Elway, to retirement within the last 15 months, the NFL needs all the superstars it can get. And Davis, the 1998 Most Valuable Player when he rushed for 2,008 yards, the third-most in NFL history, certainly qualifies.

Just a sixth-round draft pick in 1995, Davis ran for 6,000 yards faster than any back except Hall of Famers Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson. Dickerson is the only player to gain 7,000 total yards quicker and only Sanders can match Davis' three straight 1,500-yard seasons. And Davis' 1997 (he was Super Bowl MVP) and 1998 postseasons were the second-and third-best ever.

"Terrell makes up for a multitude of sins," Broncos guard Mark Schlereth said. "If you get on your guy, he can make people miss. He makes those of us up front look a lot better than we really are."

The Broncos, who crashed from consecutive Super Bowl titles to a 6-10 record and the AFC West cellar last year, should certainly be a lot better this season if Davis' right knee continues to cooperate.

"The questions about the knee don't bother me," said Davis, who suffered a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament and a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament along with cartilage damage last Oct. 3 against the New York Jets. "People want to know. It's not just the media. My teammates ask me every day how my knee's doing out of genuine concern. People are picking out more things from watching me than they normally would because everybody's conscious of the knee. They're saying 'He didn't move like that last year. He didn't walk like that.' I'm walking the same way except nobody noticed before. This year everybody's paying a little more attention."

So is Denver coach Mike Shanahan. Although Davis hasn't experienced any setbacks during his rehabilitation, Shanahan is limiting his linchpin to one of the twice-daily practices. And Shanahan doesn't sound inclined to give Davis as much work in Saturday's preseason opener at Arizona as the running back would like.

"Terrell has been progressing every day," Shanahan said. "I feel very good about where he's at. His work ethic has been unbelievable. The big test is right here in practice. If Terrell can do it in practice, I know he'll be able to do it in a game. I don't have any reservations about him playing, but I do think you have to be careful in practice, especially with two-a-days."

Davis wishes Saturday were already here.

"Being able to go out and practice for the first minicamp was a milestone and being out here for the first day of training camp was another," Davis said. "Saturday is a big deal, being in a game situation again. Once I come out of that game OK, it's going to give me a different perspective on things. I want to see how I look on tape. I expect to see my old self because that's what I've been seeing on the practice films. I look normal. I feel normal. But you have to go through the process of people tugging on you and pulling you down. I don't want to get hit, but it's going to happen and I know my knee's ready for it. And I can't stop working after Saturday and say 'I'm able to play.' I've got to keep working to get my knee stronger… . But I know I'm going to be my old self."

Which is what the Broncos need to return to contention.

"The team didn't just miss me on the field, they missed my presence in the huddle, but we were losing [0-4] even when I was playing, so obviously just having me on the field isn't going to create instant success," Davis said. "Our focus is a little different this year. Going 6-10 will do that to you. We know what we didn't do right last year. We let little things slide in practice."

And Davis said the injury changed him, too.

"Being out helped me realize that sports isn't going to last forever," said Davis, who turns 28 in October and who had missed just three games during his first four seasons. "I'm only a play away from never playing again. It makes you appreciate the game a lot more. I'm going to try to have fun when I'm out there and make the best of my situation. Before I was just working on the field and enjoying it afterwards. And before you knew it, you were back playing again. Now, I'm trying to enjoy myself on the field."

Even on the non-trick plays.

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