Decades ago, A-C-L was another way of spelling doom. Often, tearing the ligament ended a player's career.

But according to Dr. Richard Levine, an orthopedic and sports medicine physician for MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, there have been advancements in medicine, technology and surgical techniques over the past 20 years, and the rehab process has been accelerated.

"But over the past 10 to 15 years, we have been using the same techniques, and the results have not changed that much," said Levine, also an associate team physician for the Ravens.

Reasonable expectations

That's why the timetable for most athletes to return from ACL injuries remains six to 12 months depending on how much damage was done to the knee, cartilage and ligaments. While Levine would not specifically speak about Webb or Peterson, he said it is not uncommon for athletes who underwent ACL reconstructions to "take six months off and have a great year."

But did what Peterson accomplish last season create unreasonable expectations for athletes returning from major knee surgeries such as Webb and Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III? Paine believes so.

"Yes, it's tough. It may create a tough situation for people. He set the bar," Paine said. "But one thing about having an ACL injury, you're either worse than you were before the injury or you are better than you were. Very rarely are you exactly the same as you were."

Former Ravens running back Jamal Lewis, who missed the 2001 season after tearing his left ACL in training camp, said the challenge for Webb will be "more mental than anything else.

"It's all about your mindset," said Lewis, who played every game and rushed for 1,327 yards and six touchdowns in his first season back. "What mindset are you in when you are ready to step back on the field? That's the difference, I think, in how a player goes back out and performs. … You need to be mentally strong and say, 'Hey, I'm back to my old self.'"

Lewis said he was fully healthy when the 2002 season began and he believes Webb can play at a high level this season, too. He cautioned, though, that there are no guarantees when it comes to knee injuries, even today.

If Webb needs a reminder of this, he can call his former teammate Domonique Foxworth (Maryland), a fellow cornerback who tore his right ACL in training camp in 2010 and was never the same player.

What's next for Webb?

On Thursday, Webb's activity in 11-on-11 team drills was limited to taking a knee and high-fiving teammates. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Webb is able to do more than what the doctors and trainers are letting him do, but they feel there is no need to push it.

"It's reasonable that he would be playing against Denver with the state of ACL surgery and recovery," Harbaugh said. "That's definitely our target. I think he's got a very good chance to get back and play in the preseason at some point in time, but it's not the most important thing."

Webb said his surgically repaired knee feels good, but he didn't set a timetable for his return.

"I'm just going to keep listening to the trainers, taking it slow — you know, easing my way back into practice," Webb said. "Hopefully I'll be there for the first game."

Given what Peterson was able to do, many outside the Castle will not only expect Webb to be there, but for him to play as well as — if not better than — he did before he shredded that knee ligament.

Asked whether he feels he can physically do all the things he did before his latest injury, Webb flashed a sly grin and said, "I think I can be Lardarius Webb again."

matt.vensel@baltsun.com

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