RENTON, Wash. – When Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner was first told he'd completely torn the tendon connecting his big toe and the bottom of his foot, the recovery was estimated to be eight weeks.
And that recovery included weeks of having his foot in a cast with his toe curled so the damaged tendon could grow back together.
"How fun is that?" Wagner said Wednesday.
The Seahawks are hoping their starting middle linebacker will make his return this week when Seattle hosts Arizona in a key NFC West matchup. Seattle is three games behind the Cardinals and if the defending champs have any hope of getting back into the division race, a win over Arizona is required.
Getting some continuity at linebacker would help.
Since Wagner was injured in Week 6 against Dallas, the Seahawks have used a combo of K.J. Wright and Brock Coyle in the middle of the defense. It's been serviceable efforts by both, but Wright is far more comfortable at weakside linebacker and while Coyle has potential he's still an undrafted rookie.
Wagner's potential return could be critical because of what the Seahawks face. After Arizona, Seattle is at San Francisco on a short week and then travels to Philadelphia.
"He's worked really hard to maintain his conditioning level. Let's see what happens, though," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "We won't put him in harm's way. But if he's ready to go we'll play him more. We just need to find out."
Wagner was hurt in the first half of Seattle's loss to Dallas on Oct. 12. X-rays at halftime confirmed the tendon was torn, but since no additional damage could be done, he returned and played the second half. The next day, his foot swelled to the point he could barely walk.
Wagner also fractured a bone in his foot along with the tendon injury. Being put in a cast and letting his foot heal without surgery was the quickest route to getting back on the field. But if Wagner plays against the Cardinals he'll be two weeks ahead of the projected recovery time.
"They explained this injury to me like 10 times. I'm a professional. I know what I'm talking about," Wagner joked.
Before his injury, Wagner was playing at arguably the highest level of his young career. He was leading Seattle in tackles and was playing nearly every defensive snap. Despite missing five games, Wagner is still fourth on the team in tackles.
When Wagner finally got out of the cast, he started ramping up his workout program in the hopes of getting his conditioning closer to where it was before the injury. He rode the bike. He ran in the pool. His work paid off with what Carroll called a "phenomenal workout" on Tuesday that indicated he was ready to start practicing again.
"I feel like I'm ready for the most part, all things considered," Wagner said. "I've been running and doing my best to stay in the best shape I can without being out there on the football field. Just going to take this week one day at a time."
While the realistic expectation would be that his snaps are limited when he returns, Wagner was insistent that if he's in uniform on Sunday it's to play, not to be a part-time contributor.
"If I'm suited up and you see a 54 jersey on I'm playing. You're not going to see me on the sidelines," he said.
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