Anthony Poindexter was sweating as much as he was smiling.
A few minutes had passed since the first practice of his professional football career had ended. Nearly a year had passed since Poindexter's left knee had been ripped apart midway through his senior season at Virginia.
And the Ravens' rookie safety had taken another step forward in a remarkable recovery.
"I felt out of place for the first couple of plays," said Poindexter, who worked with the second team yesterday. "But the game of football is in my heart. I felt like I was back at home after a while, back in my domain."
Less than a year after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, and after nearly a year of grinding rehabilitation, Poindexter amazingly could be making his way onto the Ravens' active roster soon.
The Ravens selected him in the seventh round of the draft six months ago, figuring they had nothing to lose by taking Poindexter, figuring he would spend his rookie season on injured reserve. But Poindexter made such impressive progress last spring and during training camp that the team decided to place him on the physically unable to perform list.
By clearing Poindexter to practice this week, the Ravens now have three weeks to decide whether to add him to their 53-man roster or place him on injured reserve for the rest of 1999.
"[Poindexter] has come miles from April. Now it's all about playing football. We're going to find out in the next three weeks if he can help us this year," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "We're pointing toward the year 2000 with the kid. Right now, we're getting a sneak preview of what we're going to have in training camp next year."
Said defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis: "I've watched him every day. He's been very attentive in the meetings, been with us every step of the way. He just hasn't had practice repetitions. He's gotten better [physically] every week. If everything goes good, we might have a heck of a player by midseason."
Poindexter, 6 feet, 220 pounds, was polishing off quite a collegiate career at Virginia before disaster struck during the seventh game last Oct. 24 against North Carolina State. A collision with a teammate and an opponent left him with three torn cruciate ligaments -- anterior, posterior and lateral. That didn't stop writers from naming Poindexter a first-team All-American for the second straight year.
Poindexter left Virginia with 342 career tackles, 12 interceptions, seven forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. And the day he was taken off the field in Charlottesville, Poindexter had gone from a projected first-round draft pick to someone who might never appear on a football field again. A pay day worth millions suddenly had evaporated.
"It's been humbling. I had never played football like I was playing in my senior year, and then I got hurt," Poindexter said. "It could have been a lot worse. I could have hit an artery or a nerve [in his leg]. I didn't get shot, I didn't get killed. My heart is still beating. If there was any possible way they could fix my knee through surgery, I knew I could come back."
As for the financial impact of his injury, Poindexter said, "I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it. Hopefully, I'll make up some of that money on the back end of my career."
Poindexter had surgery soon after his injury, and has undergone a follow-up arthroscopy to clean out scar tissue. Except for an occasional minor setback that has slowed him, he has continued his rehabilitation without incident.
"[Poindexter] is in an elite group. He's the first one I've dealt with who had all three ligaments [damaged]," said Bill Tessendorf, the Ravens' head trainer. "He's had a lot of work done in that knee joint. It was a disaster. What he has done is overcome. He was anxious to be out there [on the practice field] and away from me."
Tessendorf said Poindexter has never had stronger legs in his life. He said Poindexter has been squatting 575 pounds and leg-pressing well over 600. Poindexter also has been running and cutting at full speed in recent weeks. "And he's not done growing yet," Tessendorf said.
Poindexter had one anxious moment in practice yesterday, when he dove in an attempt to deflect a pass. He landed face down, as his knees hit the ground. For a moment, Poindexter thought about re-injuring the knee. But the moment passed quickly.
"My mind is saying let's go, but my body still might be behind," Poindexter said. "The instincts are coming back."
Said Tessendorf: "All guys who go through something like this have to get hit on [the knee], find out it's not going to fall off, then get up and get back to work. Whatever he gets out of this, he has worked his tail off for it."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Kansas City Chiefs
Site: PSINet Stadium
When: Tomorrow, 8: 20 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Series: First meeting
Tickets: Sold out
Line: Chiefs by 1