Each day Andre Brown walked into the Giants' locker room this spring and stood in front of his stall, he was eye-to-eye with an old friend. There, on the top shelf, was a pair of shoulder pads with his number 22 on them.
For almost a full year, those shoulder pads have been set there gathering dust while Brown glances at them longingly, unable to use them. He hasn't put them on since last August when, as a rookie at training camp, he went out for a pass in a red-zone drill, jumped for the ball, and ruptured his Achilles tendon. He spent the rest of the season rehabbing from surgery and is only now, during this minicamp, starting to feel the way he always felt on a football field.
"I feel comfortable out there," the second-year running back said. "I made a couple of cuts today where I was like, hmmm, a few weeks ago I probably wouldn't have tried that. I'm putting my left foot on the ground and I'm getting upfield. I'm doing pretty good."
It's a good thing too because Brown will likely be one of the stars of training camp.
Too early to say that?
Consider that he's competing for the third running back job behind two returning players, both coming off more recent lower-body surgeries. That means their reps will be limited and the Giants will be loathe to push them in preseason games. Enter Brown, who was impressive enough in his limited time last summer but whom the Giants will want to take a long look at to see what he's truly capable of.
There seems little doubt that if he stays healthy, Brown will have the honor of being the Giants' leading preseason rusher. For whatever that's worth.
To Brown, it could mean a lot. Especially after missing an entire year.
"I just want to get out there," he said. "I just want to hit somebody. Even if it's running on kickoffs, kickoff return, punt return, I just want to go out there and I want to play football. I don't care where I'm at as long as I'm helping the team and as long as I'm doing what I have to do to get us wins."
Barring injuries ahead of him, it seems unlikely he'd unseat Brandon Jacobs or Ahmad Bradshaw atop the running back food chain. But he could edge out D.J. Ware for the third running back spot, especially considering how Ware fell out of favor at the end of last season.
Brown can do a lot. He can run with power. He can catch passes out of the backfield. He's big enough to stay in and protect on third-downs. He said the coaches have told him that he hasn't lost any of his speed.
"I feel like I'm still pretty fast," he said. "I'm getting out of the backfield and I'm catching the ball pretty well and I'm still getting upfield."
And he even has a throwing arm that the Giants sometimes take advantage of. Earlier this week he chucked a pass on a running back option.
"That was a bad one," he said of his throw that was nearly intercepted. "I shouldn't have thrown that. I'll probably get fired for that."
Probably not, but he'll be urged not to do it again.
Brown said he and the Giants trainers have tried to find an example of a running back who came back from a ruptured Achilles, but have not. Brown has spoken to a few players who had the injury later in their careers, but they are mostly defensive backs. Brown could be the first NFL running back to overcome this kind of injury.
Being a trailblazer hasn't helped boost Brown's mindset during the process, though. He spent time talking with Jay Alford, who was rehabbing his own season-ending knee injury, and sought words of advice from veteran center Shaun O'Hara. But the overall picture was pretty gloomy, especially during those setbacks like when he slipped in the shower and had to put his rehab on hold for a few weeks.
"It was depressing," he said. "You waited for so long to get your goal, and to have it taken away off a freak accident, off an Achilles injury, the most rare injury in football. It hurt."
Brown's goal is back in sight. He had no discomfort participating in two-a-days during this minicamp and - poor pass decisions aside - looked very good. With Amhad Bradshaw missing a few of the practices with his own soreness issues, Brown was able to increase his reps and improve his comfort level with the offensive playbook.
Now it's just a matter of getting back to Albany. Or, more specifically, getting past it.
"I just can't wait until training camp," he said. "At least let's make it to a preseason game this year."