By GEOFF HOBSON
A month ago, cornerback Charles Fisher's NFL career hung by the only thread left in his tattered knee. But after watching him progress the past few weeks, the Bengals have cautiously put him back in their plans for the last few months of the 2000 season. Fisher is a potential candidate for the Physically Unable to Perform list, which could keep him with the team through final roster cuts and make him eligible for roster activation in October.
"There's not much to say, because until I come back, no one knows what's going to happen,'' Fisher said as he packed his left knee in ice after today's workout at Spinney Field. "I feel like I'm going to be able to do the things I did. It's going to take awhile to get back to the full Charles Fisher, but I've gone into this thing ignorant. I don't know I can't come back."
The tough thing is, no one knows how the full Charles Fisher played. The Bengals' second-round choice in the 1999 Draft, he was working on his 17th NFL snap in last season's Sept. 12 opener when he moved from the inside to cover Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson on an out route. Fisher saw it all the way and jerked into position, thinking he was going to make his first pro interception.
Instead, he couldn't figure out why Dyson was getting farther and farther away and he wasn't moving. It was because his knee blew up. The doctors said it was dislocated. But blew up is more like it. He ripped his anterior cruciate ligament and his medial collateral ligament, and tore much of his posterior cruciate ligament.
The Bengals say they don't know of a player who has rebounded from such devastation to play NFL cornerback. Matt Stevens did, but he played safety for the Washington Redskins last season. At 6-foot and 185 pounds, Fisher knows he's a corner.
How devastating? Cornerback Ric Mathias ripped only his ACL in the Aug. 14 exhibition opener, and though he hopes to participate in next week's mini-camp, he's still not fully cleared.
The Bengals were devastated enough that last Saturday, they used their third straight second-round pick to draft a corner, this time taking LSU's Mark Roman. Then they chose Mississippi State's Robert Bean in the fifth round, giving them nine corners.
"If that little piece of PCL wasn't there, I'd be somewhere else right now doing something else," Fisher said. "That little string gave me hope in my knee."
Fisher came out charging a few weeks ago, barely six months removed from surgery. He ran smoothly and looked decent enough in drills that the Bengals hope he can be cleared for the July 21 start of training camp. They won't rush him, and if they like what they see, they will probably put him on the PUP list, meaning he'll miss the first six weeks of the season.
Or maybe he'll do what he's already done, and stun people. Trainer Paul Sparling and secondary coach Ray Horton already consider his progress to be remarkable.
Horton: "The guy ripped out everything in his knee, and he's out there running around? He's got a long way to go, but it's amazing."
Sparling: "The odds aren't in his favor, but we're cautiously optimistic about what we've seen, the way he's moving and the way he's tolerated it so far. He deserves another look."
If you could come back on just hard work, Fisher would be starting. He says he hasn't missed a day of rehab, and he's coming off some grueling 40-hour weeks. At Christ Hospital from 9:30 a.m. to noon, he would work just on leg strength. Then he'd grab lunch at McDonald's or Burger King on the way over to the University of Cincinnati track, where he ran 100- and 200-yard sprints with safeties Myron Bell and Cory Hall. Then it was back to the gym at Better Bodies, near his Northern Kentucky home.
Take today. Fisher had quarterback Akili Smith throw him routes, even deep ones, so he could work on running balls down with his speed. He won't rule out being able to break 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash again, but he figures 4.4 would be pretty good because he knows there are NFL corners running 4.6.
"Right now I could run at least 4.5," Fisher said. "I don't think I'm going to be any slower. But if I'm going to be 4.4 instead of 4.2, I know I can play with that. You adjust. You become smarter. It might be more mental than anything. Something might not feel right, when actually it is right."
The Bengals would be delighted if he could be a third-down cornerback, given the extent of the injury. Fisher thinks he can be more, and the Bengals are listening.
After all, no one thought he'd be here now.