Leon Hall and Nick Cosgray like to have a musical theme for each day they grind through rehab and on "Throwback Thursday," Hall punched into the locker room's Pandora system "September" by Earth, Wind and Fire.
"They just do what they do and it works out perfectly. I really like that song," Hall says after another session on the way back.
For the second time in three offseasons Hall and Cosgray are doing what they do and they hope it works out as perfectly as it did last time, when Hall was ready for September after a textbook rehab from a torn Achilles. All signs are pointing that way when Cosgray and head trainer Paul Sparling check their 2012 offseason files.
"He's right where he was a couple of years ago; right on schedule," says Cosgray, Sparling's head of rehab. "If you look back at the notes I have on him, he's exactly where he was two years ago."
That would mean Hall would be ready for the first day of training camp. That was the goal that was met in '12; when Hall went on to have a Pro Bowl-type season after the Nov. 13, 2011 injury. He didn't make it, but he made it in the eyes of pundits strewn about the NFL in media and coaching circles. His ability to move into the slot in the nickel package opened up so many options for the Bengals on passing downs that when Hall tore his other Achilles in the seventh game of the 2013 season on Oct. 20, the spot had become so important the Bengals turned to veteran safety Chris Crocker.
As always, the Bengals are cautious and general. Sparling will even say that Hall arguably could be slightly ahead of the last rehab. But, Sparling says, the true scope of Hall's progress won't be known until Hall is on the field doing football drills three months from now.
The club is heartened Hall has the same surgeon as last time in Jim Amis and the same rehab for an injury that is very similar. The cautionary tale is that no two injuries are the same.
But Hall is the perfect patient. One of the greatest Bengals corners of all time, his age has suddenly matched his No. 29 jersey. He's 13 games away from tying Lemar Parrish for the third-most games played by a Bengals corner (105) and three interceptions away from tying Parrish for the fourth-most interceptions (25) in club history. And it's believed Hall has joined Ken Riley as the only Bengals Opening Day starting cornerback on four playoff teams.
And Cosgray thinks Hall's age and experience have been a help for him and not a detriment.
"I tell him all the time he looks better than he did last time," Cosgray says. "Everything looks cleaner. He looks a little stronger than he did back then. He's doing calf raises more efficiently than last time. I think this rehab is a little better this around, which is pretty normal. They talk about a guy coming off a second ACL tear and the second rehab always goes a little bit better. It's kind of the same deal with this."
There are no gold-plated mile posts on the Drudgery Turnpike. But there are a lot of toll booths demanding sweat. Hall is past the stage where he has been jogging on the zero gravity treadmill and he is now able to jump through the squares of a floor ladder in the gym. Just to take the edge off the monotony, he fires up a three-point shot with a basketball Cosgray feeds him after stepping through the last square.
Indeed, if the Midwest was not Ice Station Zebra, Hall already would have been outside running striders before getting ready to sprint by the time of the May and June camps.
"We've been able to reference back to my first Achilles and that's been good to be able to look at the checkpoints," Hall says. "Every injury is different. They pose different problems, so you don't want to go about it the exact same way. Nick and I have done a good job with that."
Hall and Cosgray have proven to be a good team and that has given Cosgray some skins on the wall in the locker room. Until Cosgray arrived six years ago, many high-priced players chose to do their offseason rehab elsewhere but he has built up enough trust that this offseason he's managing a Wall Street portfolio of nearly $100 million between Hall and defensive tackle Geno Atkins (ACL).
"The key has to be trust," Sparling says. "From trust comes that confidence."
It may help that Cosgray, 35, isn't that much older than the players. Or that he's got an easy Hoosier way about him as a native of Monticello, Ind., a town of about 5,000 a half-hour from Purdue, and a graduate of the University of Indianapolis. Or that while he goes home to two young daughters, Hall has three little sons.
Or, that he gets it right.
"Everything he's told me has been true. He hasn't failed me yet," Hall says. "The trust has built up over time. At the beginning of the first rehab, I asked a lot of questions. 'Why are we doing this? Why are we doing that?' I was a little skeptical. Not that I didn't think he knew what he was doing, but it took me time to build that trust. Now even with some of the smaller injuries I've had, like a hamstring or a calf, I take his word like gold."
It's a two-way street and Cosgray knows he's riding in a limo with Hall.
"He does whatever you ask," Cosgray says. "What a great guy. You tell him to be here at a certain time, he's always on time. If anything, we have to back him off at times because he's trying to do too much."
So the beat goes on. Like last time, Cosgray's next goal is to get Hall on the field in three months. And if it goes like it did in '12, Hall will be able to work in the June 15 mandatory minicamp. But why? So he will get another six weeks before the first snap of camp.
Until then, they'll keep pumping the music. There is Bob Marley Mondays and Hall loves the music and words to "The Redemption Song." "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery" is not a bad way to describe how Hall deals with the mindless hours of rehab.
There is also "Freestyle Fridays," but "I haven't been able to come up with anything for Tuesdays yet," Hall says.
It always seems to keep coming back to "Throwback Thursdays." Hall's mother gave him a taste for Motown. It's pretty much all he heard growing up and The Temptations are probably his favorite group.
"Motown stuff for me. Pearl Jam and some Green Day for Nick. That music's been growing on me. I think I like his stuff more than he likes my stuff," Hall says. "It's good to go back and listen to the old music."
As Hall and Cosgray try to repeat history, "Throwback Thursday" may be how to play it.