It's still hard for Pierson Prioleau to fathom how abruptly his 2006 season came to an end.
After months of off-season work and preparation, Prioleau's 2006 season ended on the opening kickoff of the Redskins' first game. He suffered a torn ACL in his right knee while running downfield on kick coverage against the Minnesota Vikings at FedExField.
"Surprised and disappointed," Prioleau said of the injury. "I had a lot of things I wanted to do to help this team win. You work real hard for your teammates and you feel like you form a bond with them.
"You get hurt like that, you feel like you didn't pull up your end of the bargain."
Since the injury, Prioleau underwent surgery and began a lengthy rehabilitation that continued into the offseason. His return to the Redskins Park practice fields this spring is somewhat uncertain.
"It's tough to say," he said. "I could be ready for the off-season workouts. It'll be up to the trainers as to how much they allow me to do. The smart thing to do is just work my way back into it until it's ready to go."
Prioleau said he can feel the strength returning in his knee as he begins jogging again. He hopes to be back at full strength for the start of OTAs in May and June, as well as the June mini-camp.
"Definitely I'll be ready to play next season," he said. "The rehab is going [well] and everything is on schedule. I think I'm a little ahead of schedule, actually."
As a part-time starter and nickel safety, Prioleau developed into an integral part of the Redskins' defense last season. He recorded 39 tackles, a career-high two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery as he helped solidify the defense. He also excelled on special teams, finishing with 21 tackles on kick and punt coverage.
In the Redskins' 17-10 Wild Card win over Tampa Bay that season, Prioleau stepped in for Sean Taylor--who had been ejected from the game--and produced five tackles and one pass defended.
"Pierson is a great kid, and it's unfortunate he did not get a chance to play with us this year," assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. "Outside of Phillip Daniels, Sean Taylor and Marcus Washington, I don't think anyone made as many big plays as Pierson made down the stretch [in 2005]."
Minus Prioleau, the Redskins' defense struggled last season, finishing 31st overall. Adam Archuleta struggled early on, so the team signed veteran safety Troy Vincent midseason to pair with Taylor. When Vincent was sidelined with a hamstring injury, coaches turned to Vernon Fox, a free agent pickup last August.
Asked about the effect Prioleau's absence had on the defense, Williams replied: "Sure, those types of playmakers are missed, but the next guy has to step up. Whoever that is, they have to fill the void because it is an opportunity for whoever plays."
Added Prioleau: "We just didn't play well. We didn't play well fundamentally and as a team. You have to play better if you want to win games in this league."