As he went through drills with his teammates for the first time in nearly a year last October, Anthony Blue had technically made his way back from a potentially devastating knee injury.
The problem was, however, he didn't exactly feel like he was back.
While the sophomore cornerback was able to return to practice after completely blowing out his ACL during winter conditioning, the limitations the injury put on the extent of what he could actually do in practice made him feel more like a bystander than an actual player.
For someone who was one of the leading candidates to earn a starting cornerback job prior to his injury, that was an awfully tough pill to swallow. That's why this spring will be extra special for Blue, who completed his first full practice with the NU defense in well over a year.
"In October on scout team, it didn't really feel like I was back," Blue said. "But now it feels like I'm just knocking off the dust. I felt more like a water boy or something last year. It feels good now though."
Blue admitted that he's noticed a bit of a drop-off in his overall speed and quickness from before his injury, but with an entire spring, summer and fall camp to continue his rehab, he's confident he'll be back at 100 percent by the time the season starts.
"If I'm comparing my speed to how it was, I'd say I'd be at 90 percent," he said.
Though he's progressing about as well as could be expected physically, it's the mental aspect of the injury that has given him the most trouble. Blue said he still noticed himself being somewhat hesitant to make a hard plant on his bad leg during the Huskers first spring practice Wednesday, but he's been doing his best to just go out and play without thinking about his knee.
Defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders said he's taken an active approach in trying to get Blue from worrying about re-injuring his knee. Sanders said along with offering constant encouragement in practice, he's also been pointing out instances on film where Blue has made a cut or plant without hesitating, giving him proof that he can make the plays without worry.
"When I see it on film, there have been a couple of times when he wasn't thinking about it and he just went," Sanders said. "I'm going to use those as examples to say, You see, Anthony? You've made this cut on this knee. We've got to get past it and do it all the time.
"I know he's going to push through it. Once we get some live contact out here, he'll get back into it."
Because Blue's injury came before Sanders and the rest of the coaching staff came to Lincoln last spring, Sanders said he hasn't been able to see Blue's full ability and potential on display.
Blue was able to get plenty of mental reps in last season to help learn the new defensive system, but he's well aware that it didn't come close to learning through experience on the field in practice and in games.
Though he was widely regarded as a shoo-in for the starting cornerback job across from senior Armando Murillo last winter before his injury, Blue said reclaiming that position isn't his top priority at the moment.
For now, he's mostly concerned with getting used to being an actual football player again.
"It's important getting back up there (on the depth chart), but I'm just trying to compete, really," Blue said. "Wherever I go, that's where I go. If I can be a factor on special teams and work my way back into it, that'd be fine also. Right now I'm just trying to get back up to speed and learn the playbook, and whatever happens, happens."
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