Cornerback Chris Johnson, the Packers' first of four seventh-round selections in the 2003 NFL Draft, returned to on-field activity with his teammates for the first time in quite a while Wednesday. The defensive back with legendary speed has yet to see his professional career get going after enduring a pair of major injuries in his relatively short stay in Green Bay.
Johnson, who was timed at an astonishing 4.23 seconds in the 40-yard dash coming out of the University of Louisville (although the tattoos on the back of his calves will let you know he once sprinted the distance in 4.18), was sidelined for his entire rookie season after injuring his right knee in a training camp collision with Donald Driver.
After impressing the coaching staff early in his rookie camp, arthroscopic surgery on his right knee which was performed to repair cartilage damage landed Johnson on injured reserve and out for all of 2003.
Following a strenuous rehabilitation regimen, Johnson returned to the practice field during a minicamp in the spring and performed well before suffering another setback. The speedster encountered another leg ailment, this time a stress fracture in his lower left leg that led to him missing all of 2004's training camp.
The 25-year-old corner has been on the Packers' Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list since the outset of camp, but now has been cleared to return to practice.
"We're going to take him off of the reserve part of PUP and he's going to practice with us today and do some things," said GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman Wednesday. "He had a workout last week that was fairly impressive and hopefully that will continue. He's still quite rusty after not having done anything."
Johnson said that he's ready to return to the field, especially since it's been nearly two years since his last game action, which came in Louisville's GMAC Bowl appearance in December 2002. He's eager to show that he still possesses the speed that convinced the Packers to trade up to get him in the late rounds two Aprils ago.
"I've been ready ever since the day I had my surgery as far as my rehab," Johnson said. "Now I get the opportunity to come back and show what I still have and I'm going to try to do that to my best abilities.
"My main concern after I had my surgery was to focus on my backpedaling and coming to balance. The last couple of months they have come back to the way I want them to be, so I'm waiting to get out there and get the feel of football again."
Sherman wasn't sure just what to expect from Johnson, but is definitely glad to see the player back out on the field.
"I keep on waiting for Chris Johnson to come back, assuming that he's been playing a lot of football previously, but he really hasn't played a whole lot of football," Sherman said. "He had a great minicamp and we were very excited about him. He had a good preseason before he got hurt and it's unfortunate that he did. It will be good to get him out there. He's a talented athlete that I think has a bright future."
Under league rules, the Packers have three weeks to decide Johnson's immediate future - whether to activate him to the 53-man roster, place him on injured reserve again if they feel he's not healthy for game action, or release him.
When asked how long it would take for him to be ready, Johnson was confident that he will show the staff enough to get him into a Packer uniform for a game in the near future.
"I want to say maybe two weeks," he said. "Not to say it's going to take that long, but for me, I'd say about two weeks. I might go out there this week and they like what they see and activate me this week. It's going to be up to them, and at the same time it's going to be up to me. I'm just going to take it day by day."