McGahee pleased after first practice
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Willis McGahee comfortably leaned back in the seat of a cart with his left knee wrapped in ice and a smile on his face Wednesday.
The smile was genuine, a reflection of how happy McGahee was following his long-awaited first practice since the Bills made him their first-round draft pick last April.
"Everything's good," McGahee said. "I wouldn't be out here talking to you if it wasn't, I'd tell you that much."
The ice was a precaution, something the running back has had to apply after every workout since he had surgery to repair three torn ligaments nearly 10 months ago.
As practices go, it was nothing out of the ordinary for the former Miami star, who wore a brace on his injured leg and a Bills helmet with a reflective visor. He took a few handoffs, caught a few passes and even played defense for the scout team for kicks.
But it still marked a significant step in McGahee's rehabilitation since he was hurt in Miami's loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl last January.
Coming a day after he was cleared for contact by the Bills training staff, Wednesday's practice opened a three-week window for the team to determine whether to place McGahee on its active roster or sit him out for the rest of the year.
While the decision is ultimately the team's, McGahee made clear what his intentions are.
"I feel like I can play any time," he said. "I know my expectations, but I really don't worry about it. I just go as it is."
The Bills are taking a cautious approach.
Coach Gregg Williams said that while McGahee is in excellent physical health, it's far too early to tell how he'll react in a football setting.
"This is the first day he's on the field, so I can't say anything," Williams said. "It's not going to be something that you just all of a sudden step back into."
That didn't stop the coach from expressing hope that McGahee will play this season.
"Sure, we all hope," Williams said. "And if he progresses the way he's progressed to date, there's a good chance that he could be out there."
Eric Moulds rated McGahee's practice as promising.
"He looked pretty good," Moulds said. "He's to that point where he's not all the way back, but he has the confidence in himself and his abilities."
Linebacker Mario Haggan said McGahee didn't need a doctor's OK to play. Haggan, a member of the Bills practice squad, knew McGahee was ready three weeks ago when the two went head to head during an on-field workout.
Haggan was asked to shove McGahee while the running back ran routes. A few plays into the drill, McGahee asked Haggan to hit him harder.
"I hit him pretty hard, hard enough as if it was in a game situation," Haggan said. "He took it and he was well prepared. And he hit back."
Starter Travis Henry welcomed McGahee to practice and didn't even mind the possibility of having to share the backfield duties.
"We've got a good relationship so far so, yeah, we can make it work," Henry said.
That's a departure from Henry's initial reaction. When the Bills drafted McGahee, he called it a "slap in the face."
McGahee said he doesn't think about how far he's come in a relatively short time. He's erased the memories of getting hurt. And he doesn't concern himself with worries of hurting his knee again.
"I'm just taking it day by day," McGahee said. "I learned by putting timetables on things they never go the way you want them to go."
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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