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"Shooting for mid-August," Nicks said when asked about a likely date to begin working with the team. He pointed out, however, that his return could be gradual, just as his progression to this point has been since undergoing surgery on his right foot in May. "Whether it be me working my way back up so by mid-August I can be back practicing fully, maybe start doing some individuals soon or practicing routes with the quarterback. We're just going to keep progressing, taking it slow, following instructions of team doctors."
Nicks was injured on the second day of the Giants' organized team activities while doing something completely ordinary in his line of work, running a route. "I felt like I popped a knuckle," said Nicks of the moment his fifth metatarsal fractured, "but it was in my foot." Nicks, who immediately suspected that it was broken, had his suspicions confirmed by the Giants' medical staff and underwent surgery the next day.
Surgery involved the placement of a small screw at the fracture site to stabilize the bone. Nicks traveled to North Carolina where renowned foot and ankle surgeon, Dr. Robert Anderson, performed the procedure. Anderson, who treated Nicks in the past for a toe injury, told him the promptness of this surgery worked in his favor in terms of the overall healing. Nicks has been heeding the advice of Anderson and the Giants' medical staff to take the recovery process slowly.
"Team doctors and trainers have been doing a good job of walking me through this, getting me at a level to where I'm confident enough to go out and play on it," Nicks said. "I'm progressing pretty well. Right now my activity level is running straight ahead, conditioning, cutting a little bit. It feels fine and there have been no setbacks, always the ultimate goal. I'm confident that I'll be able to come back fully effective, pick up where I left off."
Nicks knows a thing or two about coming back from injury. In addition to the toe injury sustained in the 2009 season, Nicks dealt with acute compartment syndrome in his lower leg in 2010 and surprised many by returning quickly and effectively. Acute compartment syndrome occurs when bruising or bleeding within a confined area of soft tissue results in rapid swelling, causing compression of the associated nerves and blood vessels. The sensitivity of these structures to lack of blood flow is such that if the situation is not addressed swiftly, the tissue in the area can die. This condition is typically associated with trauma, such as a car accident, but can occur occasionally in sports as a result of contact. The key to a good outcome is proper identification and rapid management, which is exactly what happened in Nicks' case. In fact, the process unfolded so swiftly that Nicks really didn't have time to get nervous about the treatment, which involved surgery to open the compartment in his leg and relieve the pressure that was escalating.
"It happened so quick," Nicks said. "Guess I might have taken a hit during the game, but I didn't feel it. The next morning when I woke up, my leg was just swollen and hard. I went in to get an MRI, but they knew right away what it was. They just tested it [by using a needle attached to a pressure meter to measure the pressure within the involved compartment of the lower leg] and told me, 'We've got to cut your leg open.' I just said, 'Whatever you've got to do to save my leg, go ahead and do it.'"
Wasn't he terrified?
"It happened so quick honestly. I went in thinking I was just getting an MRI. Thirty minutes later I find out I'm getting surgery. I really didn't have time to think about it."
After surgery, Nicks said his first thought was, "I hope this big scar heals up." Then he put his mind to getting back to football. Many thought he would miss upward of one month. Nicks missed only two games. He believes he is a fast healer but pointed out that with this injury, surprisingly enough, there really was no pain. So he just covered up the wound and kept going. "I kept strengthening my leg, doing a lot of calf stretches, while the wound was healing. After I came back, I never really felt it."
Pain or not, a two-week absence for an injury of that magnitude is relatively rare. Perhaps his ability to recover rapidly is due, at least in part, to the work ethic for which Nicks is known, and he seems to be applying that to his latest foot injury. He is keeping his strength up with weight workouts and is combining pool running, bike and elliptical training to maintain his cardiovascular fitness minus the impact. But he also keeps himself mentally focused on the game.
"I watch a lot of film," Nicks said. "I watch the good, the bad, the OK. I watch it all. I remind myself what I need to work on, what I need to get better at, so that when I do pick it back up, the mental aspect is still there."
Nicks seems to take the injuries that have come his way in stride. "Obviously, having a foot injury, being a wide receiver, is not something you really want to have," Nicks said. "But it's football. Injuries are going to come. You can't control them. You've got to be able to know how to deal with them."
Part of dealing with them for Nicks is focusing on the team's football goals ahead, like following up on a championship season without a letdown. "We've got to have the mentality that it's a new season, everybody's coming for our title," said Nicks. "That's what you really look forward to as an NFL athlete, look forward to the competition."
He doesn't seem the least bit fazed by the team's task of trying to replicate last season's success. And Nicks expects to be on the field doing his part in Week 1.
"I like the challenge, all the guys do here. We're up for it. So let's go."
1mEthan Sherwood Strauss