While addressing the media for the first time since a spinal injury ended his season, rookie wide receiver Terrence Murphy said he definitely will return to action next season.
"I'm very confident," Murphy said. "I'm gonna come back in 2006 bigger, faster and stronger than ever."
The injury occurred when Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis tackled him during a second quarter kickoff return in Week 4. Medical staffers wheeled the receiver off the field on a stretcher. On Wednesday Murphy called it a spine and spinal injury but did not delve into the specifics of the injury.
"I'd be sitting here all day, trying to explain it," Murphy said.
Sometime during March, Murphy plans to meet with General Manager Ted Thompson, Head Coach Mike Sherman, team physician Patrick McKenzie and head athletic trainer Pepper Burruss to re-affirm his health and set the exact timetable for his return.
"We'll put our heads together," Murphy said.
Murphy still experiences some aches and pains. He has not started running but commenced an intense weightlifting program at the Packers' facility to regain the strength he has lost.
"You can't really rehab a spine too much," he said. "You've just got to do what you can."
Murphy has already performed repetitions of 315 pounds on bench press and plans to add five to 10 pounds to his 2005 playing weight of 196. Once the season ends, he will continue to work out in his hometown of Tyler, Texas.
Although the Packers placed him on injured reserve, Murphy remained a fixture with the team. He hung out in the locker room and attended every home game. To be closer to his teammates, he stood on the sidelines, enduring the wind and cold instead of nestling himself in the climate-controlled confines of the press box.
"I wanted to be there with my team, experiencing everything," he said.
That work ethic and team-oriented focus served as part of the reason the second-round draft pick served as such a tantalizing prospect. Hip and knee injuries, however, prevented him from playing during much of training camp and in any preseason games. He caught five passes for 36 yards and returned five kickoffs for 91 yards in Weeks 2- 4 before suffering his injury during the latter game. After returning two kickoffs for 23 yards in Week 3, Murphy showed great strides in practice.
"He was really making a move at that point," Sherman said. "All of the sudden you saw the light come on for him."
The largest obstacle in turning that light back on could be the mental, not physical, component. Murphy must block safeties, wrestle cornerbacks for passes, take hits over the middle of the field and return kicks against pursuing defenders without hesitation.
"That's the thing," Murphy said. "We want to put in it my head that we can go out and do the things I used to do without worrying about it."
Wide receiver Robert Ferguson, who attended the same college (Texas A&M) and served as role model to Murphy during the latter's high school years, went through a similar process. A clothesline tackle by Jacksonville Jaguars safety Donovin Darius ended Ferguson's 2004 season with a head and neck injury.
Ferguson has mentored Murphy throughout his recovery, but the veteran receiver said Murphy's injury was more severe. Ferguson went to see two doctors while Murphy went to four, including a recent specialist in California who gave him the final thumbs up.
"His was a little more serious," Ferguson said. "I didn't have to wait as long as he had to wait and get as many different opinions."
Making matters more serious is that another player could always tackle Murphy in a fashion similar to Davis. Football is a violent sport, and playing the game always carries a risk.
"It was a scary hit," Murphy said. "No one can guarantee me that I'll be able to play and not get hit again like that."
Murphy, however, offered guarantees on his return to action next season.
"I'm coming back in 2006, making an impact," he said, "no doubt in my mind."