Redskins wide receiver Robert Davis had a conversation with his father recently.
"I really don't care how your career ends, or how it goes, but I just want you to be able to walk off the field on your own two feet," his dad said.
The message was figurative – being able to have control over when he'd hang up his cleats someday – but the message, more pertinently, was also literal.
Following the Redskins' first preseason game last year, one in which Davis collected three receptions for 35 yards, the second-year wide receiver fell hard to the ground trying to grab a pass over the middle during a training camp practice and didn't get up.
"I heard it pop," Davis said. "I looked down and my leg was just kind of limp, swinging around, so I knew instantly as soon as it made contact with the ground it was messed up."
Medics quickly rushed to his attention and took him to the hospital. Davis was later diagnosed with a torn LCL, PCL and ACL, along with a broken tibia in his right leg. His season, one which could have provided him an opportunity to make the 53-man roster, had ended.
Now, some five months later, Davis continues rehabbing at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park, still seven months from a full recovery but in good spirits.
"I'm back on track and back set to return somewhere around the beginning of next season," Davis said, clarifying that it would likely be after training camp.
Davis was sentenced to a wheelchair for the first week and then upgraded to crutches for the next five weeks, then one crutch, until he could start walking on his own nearly two months after the incident.
"It was tough at first and then at the very end," Davis said. "Because obviously when you first start walking on crutches it's something that you're not used to but you've got to try to adapt and adjust to not being able to move around how you want to. And then at the end, when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, it's like man, I'm really ready to get out of these crutches, so you start trying to rush things. But you just got to realize that it's a long process and you really can't skip steps in it."
Check out game photos of the Washington Redskins' preseason opener against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
Now, Davis is walking freely and jogging, working on changing directions and eventually building to sprints.
"I'll start doing change of direction stuff, and strengthening my quad and stuff right now, so that's really the biggest thing right now," Davis said. "When I got surgery, I had pencil leg, a little leg, so now I've made a lot of progress with that."
The injury, the first one that's forced Davis to miss a game in either his high school or college career, didn't keep Davis out of the loop. He continued to attend team meetings when they didn't conflict with his rehab. He says he's internalized the playbook and has leaned on his cousin Thomas Davis, the veteran linebacker just released by the Panthers, who has gone through three ACL surgeries in his career.
"I've had a lot of talks with him and him saying you really won't get that good feel for playing football again until you take the first hit and realize my leg is actually OK," Davis said. "So that's going to be a mental hurdle in itself, but I'm aware that I can just take that head on and just move on from there."
In the meantime, Davis will continue to rehab each day at the team facility along with fellow wide receivers Trey Quinn and Cam Simms, gaining perspective in the process and trying to keep his dad's request.
"Before my injury, I feel like there were a lot of times that I was on the field trying to be perfect, always trying to make sure I do everything perfect," Davis said. "I've kind of changed that mental approach to, 'I want to be the best player that I can be for the team.' There's nobody who can be perfect every play, but you can give perfect effort. I just try to change that mental approach, and right now my biggest focus is just trying to be back on the field with my own two feet."