Missing pass rusher inspires teammates with return

Updated: October 8, 2003, 9:22 PM ET

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, still months away from being able to return to the playing field after his second major knee operation in three years, has rejoined the team.

Vanden Bosch watched from the sidelines Wednesday as his teammates practiced for this weekend's game against Baltimore. He said he was done with the first part of his rehabilitation and ready to begin working out in a more structured team environment.

"One of my roles before was to kind of pick everybody up in practice, and hopefully the more I'm around, the more I can do that," said Vanden Bosch, who tore ligaments in his left knee Aug. 16 in an exhibition game at San Diego.

Coach Dave McGinnis said Vanden Bosch was expected to attend team meetings and keep his head in the program during his recovery from reconstructive surgery performed in August.

"Kyle is an integral part of this football team," McGinnis said. "I mean, he's never not been a part of this team. Any players that are injured -- even if they're on injured reserve -- they're still part of this team."

Safety Adrian Wilson got a boost just seeing the rugged lineman back at his locker.

"Kyle has been through a lot the last couple of years," said Wilson, who was drafted in the third round in 2001 -- one round behind Vanden Bosch. "It's inspirational to see him in the meeting rooms and know that he's still with us. That's the main thing I know. Guys get hurt every day in this league, but to have the guy still around, it helps us out."

When healthy, the 6-foot-4, 280-pound Vanden Bosch was a poster figure for a tougher Arizona defense. Teammates remember his fearlessness going after offensive guard Leonard Davis in training camp. Davis, who weighs 380, broke his hand punching Vanden Bosch before they were separated.

But the Cardinals have had little more than an occasional, tantalizing glimpse of what Vanden Bosch can do. He tore up his right knee in the third game of his rookie season.

After spending all winter in rehab, Vanden Bosch returned to play right end last year. Without a strong complimentary rush from the left side, he played right end and led the Arizona pass rush with four sacks. He also had 66 tackles, the team's high for a lineman.

The Cardinals (1-4), who ranked last in the NFL in sacks in 2001 (19) and 2002 (21), moved Vanden Bosch to left end this year after drafting Calvin Pace in the first round, and the pass rush thrived in the preseason. But after Vanden Bosch went down, the same anemic rush showed up for the regular season. The team has three sacks -- all by blitzing linebackers or safeties.

"We've seen parts of games where our defense has been a good defense and, you know, at times a dominant defense," Vanden Bosch said. "But we just need to put a whole game together."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index