His weight is down by nearly 70 pounds, and Kyle Turley is still rehabilitating from a herniated disc in his back, but the St. Louis Rams right offensive tackle, who has spent the entire season on injured reserve, wants to return in 2005.
The seven-year veteran, who has ruled out a second surgery to correct his back problem, has no plans for now of retiring.
"Wanting to play has never been an issue," said Turley, who had missed just one game in six seasons before be placed on injured reserve Aug. 28. "I've given everything to this sport and dedicated myself to this, I think, as much, or in some cases more so, than most people. That's been the goal from Day One, to get back. To get back on the field."
Turley, 29, isn't making any promises about when that might be. The only guarantee, he reiterated, is that he won't undergo back surgery, as he did two years ago, in an effort to resume his career. Instead, the standout right tackle will pursue non-surgical options and continue a stringent workout routine aimed at strengthening his back muscles.
With his weight down to an alarming 240 pounds -- his listed playing weight for the last few seasons was 309 pounds -- he can only lift 10-pound dumbbells. But he has done plenty of cardiovascular work, maintained good conditioning, and will soon move to Phoenix to begin a regimen with a personal trainer he knew in college.
The road back to the Rams likely would be a lot quicker with surgery. But from the time his back began to flare up again early in training camp this summer, Turley insisted that he would retire rather than face another surgery. He said doctors have apprised him that, with proper posture, increased core strength and additional flexibility, his back in time will compensate for the disc problem.
How long that process will take, however, is not certain. Turley's goal is to be in camp but that aim might not be a realistic one.
"But if it takes [until] the middle of next season, then so be it," he said. "Or if it takes even the year after that, I'm going to make it back. I'm 29 years old. There's time. I'm going to make it back and play in the league."
The former San Diego State star, a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints in 1998, has split his time between St. Louis and Los Angeles in recent months. He has done some television work for Fox, but his primary reason for the trips to Los Angeles are to meet with back specialists there and have his condition re-assessed. Because he is unable to lift weights, there has been no need to work out at the Rams complex.
In a difficult season for the offensive line unit, St. Louis has used two different starters at right tackle, Grant Williams (11 games) and journeyman Blaine Saipaia (two games). The position has been a sore spot, and Williams, a nine-year veteran, was benched last week. Certainly getting Turley back onto the field next year would be a bonus, and stabilize not only the right tackle spot but the offensive line in general.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.