Less than one month after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his left knee, linebacker Brady Poppinga walks without a limp and sports a grin on his face.
"I'm like a wolverine," Poppinga said. "I heal real fast."
After he tore his anterior cruciate ligament and some cartilage on Dec. 11, doctors inserted an ACL from a cadaver during Dec. 26 surgery. Poppinga already has regained most of his range of motion.
Poppinga has not set an exact timetable for his return. When pressed, he said his ultimate objective is to suit up for the 2006 season opener. But Poppinga could start running by May and be ready for football action by late July.
"My uneducated, non-medical opinion is if things keeping going the way they're going right now, I'll be ready to go by training camp," he said. "I'll be 100 percent."
Poppinga last met with his doctor on Friday, Jan. 13. The medical staff remains pleased with Poppinga's recovery but know they must take a cautious approach with him lest his rehabilitation process mirror his playing style. On the field Poppinga pursues ballcarriers with reckless abandon. That aggressiveness helped him become one of the team's best special teams players, racking up 22 tackles in 13 weeks of action.
"He's pumped," Poppinga said, relaying his doctor's evaluation. "But he's trying to pull the reins back. ... He wants to be careful. I wouldn't consider myself careful."
Despite his apparent progress, Poppinga and his doctors know that the recovery from ACL surgery is a marathon not a sprint. It often takes athletes six months to a year to do so. And some never regain their mobility or speed.
"Things are going well at this point," Poppinga said. "There's obviously a long road ahead of me."
While on that road to recovery, he continues to lift weights with his upper body. Poppinga cannot perform heavy weight-bearing exercises with his lower body, but he does other exercises to strengthen his legs. Leg lifts (raising and lowering his straightened left leg) and quad sets (flexing his quadriceps) are a staple of his two to three hours-a-day muscle-building routine.
"That's the key right now," Poppinga said. "You've got to get that muscle to start to form because it atrophies a little bit."
Poppinga describes the ligament tear as "a freak thing." While covering a fourth quarter kickoff against the Detroit Lions, his leg was planted in the ground. A player hit him in the back, forcing his leg to go straight while his upper body twisted.
"All that stress was stressed on the ACL," Poppinga said. "And it just gave out."
Along with devoting his offseason to recovering from his knee surgery, Poppinga plans to improve his understanding of the NFL game. Having played defensive end for three years at Brigham Young, Poppinga had to make the transition to strongside linebacker in the NFL.
The fourth-round draft pick flashed potential, racking up 10 tackles and two sacks on the year while also earning a start in the same game he injured his knee. But he knows he must continue to improve. So as soon as the Packers hire a new defensive coordinator, Poppinga plans to begin intensive film study on the linebacker position within that scheme.
"It's going to be a lot of mental reps ... I'm really going to focus on learning the defense," he said. "The time between me reacting and going needs to really be cut down."
Although Poppinga hopes to better his comprehension of the defense, he simply wants to regain the physical abilities he had in his rookie year.
"When I come back, hopefully you won't be able to tell the difference," Poppinga said. "I'll be the same guy."
The votes are in.
Packers.com received more than 70,000 combined votes from you, the reader, for the Packers offensive, defensive and special teams most valuable players of 2005. Forty-six percent of voters selected Donald Driver as offensive player of the year. Driver completed one of the best seasons of his seven-year career with 86 catches for 1,221 yards and five touchdowns. Brett Favre finished second in the poll with 24 percent, and Samkon Gado finished third with 18 percent.
The race for defensive player of the year was much closer. Aaron Kampman, who set career highs with 105 tackles and 6.5 sacks, finished first with 32 percent of the vote. Al Harris logged 26 percent of the votes, and Nick Barnett logged 25 percent of the vote.
The first two spots of the special teams poll proved to be hotly contested. Poppinga, the team's leading special teams tackler before injuring his knee, led with 32 percent of the vote. Antonio Chatman received 28 percent of the vote, and Nick Collins followed with 20 percent.