A Reminder As Rodney Anderson Kills It In Rehab

Rodney Anderson eyes Comeback Player of the Year.
Rodney Anderson eyes Comeback Player of the Year.

This could be the sticky note on the kitchen table or a text from the doctor or the time jotted on a calendar. Instead, this reminder is Thursday in the Paul Brown Stadium multi-purpose room and it is Rodney Anderson powering, no, make that gliding, through another rehab session.

That jog your memory? Rodney Anderson? The Bengals sophomore running back? If you're not going to consider him an Opening Day roster candidate, here's your reminder. You know Joe Mixon, his college backfield mate, is going to be "The Man." But maybe Joltin' Joe gets a little from his friend.

"Not to speed up his process by any stretch," says running backs coach Jemal Singleton, who comes out of his mezzanine office every so often and leers over the railing to watch Anderson work, "but watching him make a few cuts, make a couple of moves, if I didn't know he had come off knee surgery, I might question it. Well, what's wrong with him? If you didn't know what his background was or what happened, he looks pretty dang good."

You remember Anderson, right? A guy dripping with NFL traits. Six-foot-224-pound big. 201 Rose Bowl yards explosive. After a Heisman Trophy-like season in his only healthy year at Oklahoma, he tore his right ACL five quarters into his senior season. The next time he touched a ball was nearly a year later as a sixth-round draft pick of the Bengals when he electrified the PBS crowd in the third pre-season game when he bobbed and weaved for 41 yards on four catches against the Giants.

Then, just as suddenly, he was gone four days later when he tore the same ACL in the pre-season finale against the Colts. That made it an unfathomable four season-ending injuries in five years for the star-crossed Anderson.

"A lot of guys might have said after all that, this just isn't for me," says Nick Cosgray, the Bengals director of rehab. "But from what I can tell, that never crossed his mind. After 48 hours and listening to how we planned out the process, he was ready. The guy is the perfect patient. He's in a positive frame of mind and that's not always easy to do. And, yeah, he's doing great."

Anderson's intangibles are as impeccable as his injuries are concerning. An active member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, he has continued to speak to schools in Cincinnati when he gets the chance and loves the Walnut Hills neighborhood he has settled into as he settles into another rehab. That's in large part because there's a nearby park where he can walk "Rafiki," his Rottweiler.

"Named after the monkey in "The Lion King." It means friend in Swahili," Anderson says. "You're a kid and it's a movie about lions and that's cool. But you get older and it's a pretty deep movie. Brother betraying brother to take over the throne. It's a movie for all ages."

If Anderson doesn't sound like your average second-year player, you're right. The two books he's been reading lately are 1960s autobiography classics from decidedly different perspectives, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings," by Maya Angelou and "Pimp," by Iceberg Slim. .

But this offseason has been mainly reserved for getting his right knee right in Cincinnati and there are a few reasons to think it's going to go better this time.

For one thing, Cosgray has been with him the entire way. While Anderson plans a brief vacation in his hometown of Katy, Texas in a few weeks, other than that he's here and been here with girlfriend Kate, her new job along with Rafiki and their hairless cat. And for another, Bengals doctor Marc Galloway did the surgery.

"He was in a much better place than he was after the last surgery," Singleton says.

Anderson agrees. He has slowed it down. It was nice last month not having to try and get ready to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, which he tried to do last year just five months after the surgery. But he couldn't do it. Just like he couldn't run at his pro day in Norman or be ready for the Bengals rookie minicamp or get on the field for spring practices or play in the first two pre-season games.

The problem is, he tried.

"I thought it seemed pretty feasible to run a straight line 40 and I wasn't going to do it if I wasn't going to run a good time," Anderson says. "In my head I was thinking if I can get to go 4.7 at least, I'll be fine. Especially five months post-op. I couldn't do it.

"I feel like I was trying to maybe rush back to reach certain goals. Like run the 40 at the combine. Get back for rookie minicamp, off-season training, training camp. I think all that rushing kind of put me in a bad situation when I got back to the season. I'm taking everything slow, doing it the right way, taking as much time as I need no matter what."

He may be looking at a similar time frame. A mid-August debut, perhaps. Yes, by all accounts, he looks terrific. But, if anything, they're going to ease him back and make sure. He certainly doesn't need to rep the offense because he has to learn it. The coaching staff is extremely impressed with how attentive Anderson was during walk-throughs and meetings last season as he rehabbed and how dialed in his questions were.

"He was in all the meetings. He wasn't sitting at home. He was getting better," Singleton says.

Singleton knows there's an honor roll of NFL running backs that have torn two ACLs and still had fine careers. Anderson knows the list starts with Hall-of-Famer Frank Gore, hoping to play a 16th season he would begin as the NFL's third all-time rusher after blowing out each ACL in college.

But Anderson hadn't heard of Terry Allen, a 1990 ninth-round pick who tore his left ACL in his rookie training camp before racking up 1,200 yards for the Vikings in 1992. Then after missing the entire 1993 season when he tore his right ACL, Allen responded with three straight 1,000- yard seasons, capping it with a career-high 1,353 yards and a league-high 21 touchdowns in Washington in 1996.

Someone flashed Allen's career stats of more than 8,000 yards for four yards per carry in 11 seasons at him and Anderson was impressed.

"Interesting," he said as Cosgray offered a reminder of just how better it is now.

"In the last 20 years the technology is so much different. The surgery is so much different. The rehab is so much different," Cosgray says. "Coming back from two ACLs is a challenge, but it is certainly doable."

Yet as he took a break from listening to the variety of Anderson Paak's R and B, soul and hip-hop on the training table, Anderson looked at the ever present ice sleeve on his knee and had no thoughts of numbers.

"I just want to get healthy, get back on the field," he says, "and contribute."

Just a reminder.