There are big offseason question marks and then there are 6-7, 340-pound offseason question marks. Meet right tackle Stacy Andrews, who has gone from project to franchise player to question mark during four brief years in the NFL.
"I'm ahead of schedule. I'll be back. I'll be strong," Andrews vowed Tuesday. "Right now all I'm concerned about is showing I can be at 100 percent and kick butt again."
Wednesday marks Andrews' four-week anniversary of reconstructive knee surgery, a procedure that has put a blip on his future and a snag in the Bengals offensive line plans. He says his agent is in contract talks with the Bengals, but nothing has helped more than a phone call from California at about the time of his surgery.
No surprise that the quiet, focused Andrews is showing the same coachability that marked his rise from college track star to NFL starting right tackle. He's taking Palmer's advice into his two-a-day routine with Bengals director of rehab Nick Cosgray.
"It's not necessarily who does your surgery, but your rehab after surgery. That's what matters. That's what Carson told me," Andrews said. "He told me, 'Do every little thing Nick tells you to do. It can be a pain, but you have to do it. The little things are what really count.' "
Even though he's scheduled to be a free agent, Andrews chose team doctor Angelo Colosimo to do the surgery.
"I felt that would be the best thing. Nick felt that would be the best thing if Angelo did it," Andrews said. "I never had any doubts about him doing it. He did a great job."
After getting through the first surgery of his life ("I was only worried about how they were going to put me to sleep. I'm a pretty big guy, but they put in a little extra," he said), Andrews has attacked rehab with up to six-hour days at PBS. He says he's in by 8:30 in the morning, on the bike by 9 and then for the next two hours he sits with his back jammed up against a wall as he tries to extend his leg a little bit more each day before heading off to the weight room.
Now that he says he's almost got all his range of motion back, Andrews is hugely encouraged that he and Cosgray are spending less and less time in the training room and more in the weight room.
That's where Andrews says he pounds it with one-legged squats, hip mobility, and step-ups and step-downs. In the afternoon he'll get in some leg lifts, which include getting on his side to strengthen his quad muscle with weights on his ankle.
No matter how hard he works, though, no one knows how the knee is going to bounce back after he says the anterior cruciate ligament and some cartilage was torn.
Will Andrews be the same quick, athletic guy the Bengals thought would develop into one of the top right tackles in the NFL? They sealed that projection last year with $7.5 million, the franchise tag, and the release of 12-year icon Willie Anderson even though Andrews had started just 17 games in his first three seasons.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis expressed the unknown last week when he said the club wouldn't really get a handle on where Andrews is until June and that the physically unable to perform list is a possibility. That would take him out of the first six games and most likely more because he wouldn't wear pads until the seventh week of the season.
Throw into the mix that Andrews was destined to be one of the top free agents on the market before the injury. That all ended five unbelievable quarters before the end of the season with four minutes left in the Cleveland game.
Although some have spent the hot stove league calculating how much money he lost when the Cleveland defender that tried to tackle running back Cedric Benson on a cutoff play ended up hitting Andrews in the back of the leg when Andrews turned, he doesn't.
"Everything happens for a reason," Andrews said. "Like my mom taught me and when I got hurt, I wasn't down about it. Everything happens for a reason. The Lord has something in store for everyone."
It is hard to say what a new deal would look like given his injury. Would it be shorter than normal, say a year or two and based on play time and performance?
"I have to prove I'm back healthy," he said, "which I will be."
What he does know is that agent Rich Moran and the Bengals began talking last week and he said that he'd like to stay with the hope of getting a deal before the Feb. 27 start of free agency.
"I like the city. I love the coaches. I love the training staff. The guys in the locker room. It's a family here. I like the setting," he said.
That's clear from his frequent appearances when the Bengals go into the community. Andrews is a staple at downtown's FreestoreFoodbank during Thanksgiving Week and Shop with a Jock during the Christmas season. He also has donated Thanksgiving dinners and gone into the schools to speak.
Like everything else for Andrews this offseason, that's now all a question mark.
Except tomorrow. And the day after that and the day after that.
"I'll be tearing it up," he said of his regimen.