OWINGS MILLS – Managing his recovery like a baseball pitcher on an extended rehab assignment, Baltimore Ravens veteran cornerback Domonique Foxworth has learned to take a patient approach one year after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Initially frustrated and disappointed with how his knee was responding early in training camp, Foxworth rested the knee and is now able to take on a bigger workload in practice. He played in his first game since the injury Friday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, but was used sparingly.
"I’m getting better," said Foxworth, who worked with the first-team defense during practice Sunday. "I have some plays where I feel great and some plays that I don’t feel so great. So, I’m trying to ease my way back in.
"I think they wanted to be smart and tried to keep me on a pitch count is the best way to describe it early on in camp. I started out a little too overzealous, and it set me back a little bit. So, we’re trying to be smarter this time around."
When Foxworth tore up his knee on the eve of camp last summer in Westminster, the Ravens were suddenly vulnerable at the position because they were still waiting for cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb to return from their own ACL tears. Webb and Washington recovered in time for the regular season.
The situation has changed, though, this year.
The Ravens can afford to let Foxworth return at his own pace because they retained Chris Carr with a four-year, $14 million contract and drafted big Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith in the first round. They also have Webb back and are pleased with the emergence of rangy cornerback Cary Williams. He started opposite Smith against Kansas City and knocked down three passes.
"Last year, one of the most difficult things for me to deal with was kind of leaving a bit of a hole on the team that you feel responsible for," Foxworth said. "This year, we are really deep and really talented. No matter what happens with any one or two guys, we have more guys who can step in and do just as good a job."
Because of the Ravens’ experience last year dealing with the recovery of Washington and Webb, they’re inclined to take their time with Foxworth and not rush him back.
Unlike Washington and Webb, Foxworth didn’t have the benefit of a supervised rehabilitation period due to the NFL lockout. And the NFL Players Association executive committee member spent the majority of his days locked in negotiations with NFL owners during the labor dispute. He would either get in his rehab exercises early in the morning or late at night.
"I think he’s fine," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I kind of compare him to Fabian and Lardarius last year. He had the injury so much earlier, but he didn’t have the offseason with us. That probably slowed the process. It’s really a matter of pushing it and forcing it to recover, pushing it and forcing it to recover.
"It seems like he can push it a little harder and it takes a little less recovery time for it to go away or there’s a lot less soreness. It seems like he’s doing well. We’re going to see how well he plays, how well he changes direction, how well he accelerates, breaks on balls, stuff like that That seems to be getting better every day."
Two seasons ago, the former University of Maryland standout had a solid season with four interceptions, 53 tackles and 16 pass deflections. He was assigned to guard opponents’ top wide receivers and notably shut down Brandon Marshall when he was with the Denver Broncos.
Will Foxworth be ready for the Ravens’ season-opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers? It’s hard to say.
"They’ve done it with other players before," Foxworth said. "This is my first time with an ACL, but it’s not our training staff’s first time and it’s not our coaches’ first time. So, I’m just going to trust in them. Whatever they think is right, I’m going to do."
Foxworth’s playing time may increase Thursday night against the Washington Redskins.
"I’ll play as long as they want me to or as short as they want me to," Foxworth said
If Foxworth doesn’t reclaim his starting job, then he would be one of the most expensive reserve cornerbacks in the league and a likely candidate for a potential restructure or a simple paycut.
Foxworth’s four-year, $28 million contract includes $16.5 million in guaranteed money, and he’s due a $4.4 million base salary this year and a $5.6 million base salary in 2012. He carries a $7.4 million salary-cap figure this year, and it rises to $8.6 million in 2012.
Foxworth seems prepared for a situation where he would be splitting time at cornerback.
"Whatever role the coaches expect me to play, I’m going to be there," Foxworth said. "I’m going to be there as a contributor on the field and a mentor to the young guys off the field."
For Foxworth to truly regain his old form, he’ll need to have full confidence and trust in his surgically-repaired knee.
And he’ll have to match speed, moves and reactions with some of the best athletes in the NFL.
"You can look at me, I’m handsome, fast, quick," Foxworth said with a smile. "Modest, humble, it doesn’t take much for me to be confident."