James Wright (86) got some work in the spring on the comeback trail.
Bengals running back Jeremy Hill saw close friend James Wright cleared for practice Monday for the first time in nearly two years and became inspired.
"When you know that you might not have a chance to play again, words can't say how much it means for him to be here now," said Hill before the Bengals practiced for the first time in full pads. "It's an inspiration to me. It lets me know that I'm blessed. I can't go out there and complain about anything. I'm excited for the opportunity he has in front of him."
Wright, a seventh-round pick out of LSU in 2014, was injured in his break-out game on Nov. 30, 2014, a three-catch, 59-yard effort in Tampa highlighted by a 30-yard catch down the sideline on third-and-long late in a 14-13 win that helped keep the ball from the Buccaneers.
He looked ready to fit into the Bengals' riddled receiving corps in the No. 3 role as a guy that could contribute on special teams as well as separate well enough to be productive in the passing game. But a torn PCL ended his season and when he didn't bounce back the next spring, microfracture knee surgery threatened to cut short his career.
He says the thought never crossed his mind ("anytime you have surgery it's a possibility") and Wright says he's encouraged watching WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict come back from the same surgery. But he also knows he plays a much different position.
"I would say it's a little tougher for a receiver," said Wright of coming back from the microfracture surgery. "You're running and cutting more and running longer. It's nothing you can't do.
"It's a small step, but a big step for me because I'm back to football. But in the grand scheme it's a small step."
Wright is also encouraged by the success rate of Bengals rehab chief Nick Cosgray.
"He helped me thinking about today. Not about what happened or the future," Wright said. "He kept me grounded. He kept me motivated."
Wright has been here before. Not maybe like this, but when he arrived in 2014, the receiver picture had some similarities.
Wide receiver Marvin Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert were out for the year with injuries from the get-go. Perennial Pro Bowler A.J. Green got dinged enough not have a catch in six games. At times the No. 2 receiver was the beleaguered Greg Little.
But Wright quietly moved his way up the ladder. He plans the same kind of ascent now.
"I felt like things were clicking. "That was a good game besides the injury," Wright said. "Every day I wake up I try to take advantage of the opportunity I'm given. I competed then and I'll compete now."
There'll be watching for two things mainly. Does Wright have explosion when he runs and can he separate from receivers like he once did.
"I don't know what percent I am," Wright said. "I've got everything back I need to have as a receiver."
HALF FULL: The half-line drill is going to highlight the Bengals' first day in pads on Monday and here is how the King of the Downhill views the first contact of the season.
"I treat it like I'm unblockable," said middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, regarded as one of the biggest hitters in the game. "I come down hill and take on the linemen, try to shed, and some guys may not like me. There's no half ass-ing the drill when you're in full pads. When you go half-assed, you're prone to injury."
Count Maualuga as a fan of the bloody Oklahoma Drill that head coach Marvin Lewis abolished a couple of years back. He prefers it to the half-line drill, where a guard, center, and tackle face an end, two D-tackles and two linebackers.
"In the Oklahoma Drill, you can put all your power in one play and that's it," Maualuga said. "One rep and you're done. Now you have to go three times and if you're short a linebacker you have to do extra reps."
Maualuga isn't trying to be a High School Harry out there on Monday trying to make all kinds of plays.
"I'm just trying to get through the first day in pads without getting hurt," Maualuga said. "That's the whole key with camp."
WILLIE, TKO, SOLLY IN HOUSE: Monday was Alumni Day with former Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson working with the offensive line and former defensive captain Takeo Spikes working for NFL Network along with former safety Solomon Wilcots.
It got Anderson thinking back to when he and Spikes kept getting passed over for the Pro Bowl every year and how there were some fine players in Cincinnati back then.
"I looked down at Takeo and he had his head tilted down and my head's down because we felt like we should have been in the Pro Bowl, but we were on losing teams," Anderson recalled before Monday's practice. "And guys would tell us, 'Hey man, you guys should be in there.' We hated hearing that over and over and over. 'You should have had 8-9 more Pro Bowls.'
"We were so bad back then ESPN used to tell (their announcers) to make jokes about the Bengals. You getting joked on ESPN all the time there can't be anybody on that team that's a Pro Bowl player, but there were: myself, Takeo, Corey (Dillon). If Corey had a quarterback he'd have had 20,000 yards."
Cincinnati Bengals host Training Camp Practice at Paul Brown Stadium Practice Fields