Injured Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman smiled on several occasions Thursday, a development that seemed especially noteworthy given how he has felt and acted over the past couple of months.
With a strained PCL in his right knee keeping him off the field, Perriman sunk into what he described as a "dark hole." His coach, John Harbaugh, found him hard to talk to. Perriman's parents tried to touch base with him, but he often wouldn't answer their calls.
"It's been probably the hardest thing I've ever been through, honestly," Perriman said Thursday in his first in-depth comments since he hurt his knee on July 30. "Just a huge disappointment for me, and I feel like I'm letting them down as well, because I feel like I do have a role on this team. I don't know how much I can help, but I just know that I can help somewhere. That's been really the hardest thing for me, really staying positive and knowing that next year is going to be my year to help everyone and hopefully have the greatest record ever here."
The Ravens put Perriman on injured reserve Tuesday, ending the rookie first-round draft pick's season before it even started, and one of the stranger injury sagas in team history. When Perriman went down during the Ravens' first full-team practice of training camp, Harbaugh expressed optimism that he'd return to practice soon, possibly the following day.
It would be nearly two months before Perriman returned to the practice field and just days after he did, he sustained a setback that proved to be too much to overcome.
Even Wednesday, a day after the Ravens had made the decision to shut Perriman down because they simply ran out of time to get him back, Harbaugh said the situation is "still a hard one to understand."
"Honestly, when it happened, I didn't think I would be out that long," Perriman said. "It was pretty painful, but I didn't think I would be out that long. The doctors told me only a couple of days, and I believed it. They looked into it some more, and it came out to be worse than everybody thought it was."
Perriman confirmed that his injury was a partially torn PCL, and not related to Osgood-Schlatter disease — a condition that causes knee pain typically in adolescents — that he struggled with when he was younger.
Perriman said doctors told him that some strained PCLs take longer to heal than others, and the rookie obviously can attest to that now. Harbaugh said early last month that Perriman had "probably one of the all-time, slowest-healing sprained PCLs ever."
The wide receiver is still wearing a brace on his right knee and walking with a limp, but he said he feels like he's making progress and won't need any other procedures.
"I think I'm fine now. I think it's healing very well. I don't think they'll have to go back in and do anything else," Perriman said. "They basically told me once I get this thing back 100 percent, that I'll be good, and I should be fine throughout the rest of my career. It could potentially happen again, but the odds of that probably are slim."
The Ravens have badly missed Perriman on the field. The former Central Florida standout was supposed to replace departed free agent Torrey Smith's speed and playmaking ability. Instead, the Ravens have gone through a revolving door of receivers this year as the absence of Perriman, and season-ending injuries to Steve Smith Sr., Michael Campanaro (River Hill) and Darren Waller have posed a number of challenges for quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense.
It hasn't been easy for Perriman to watch either. The son of Brett Perriman, a former NFL receiver, Breshad had high hopes of making an immediate impact.
"Dealing with the whole thing was very frustrating for me," he said. "I knew what I could do and what I couldn't do, and knowing I couldn't be out there with my teammates, it was really hurting me."
In late September, Perriman appeared to be nearing a return. His knee was feeling better and he decided to test it out further. During warmups before the Ravens' Sept. 27 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Perriman tried to sprint under a pass by wide receivers coach Bobby Engram, but he pulled up lame in the end zone.
"I think I just overdid it a little too much and felt the pop in my knee," Perriman said. "From that day on, I made it a little worse, they said. [Dr. James Andrews] said that the tear became worse than what it was initially."
While his teammates were in Pittsburgh preparing for a prime-time game against the Steelers, Perriman was getting his knee scoped. The setback only added to his frustration.
"I didn't really see it coming, so once it happened, I shut everyone out," Perriman said. "I wasn't really talking to anybody. Finally, my parents noticed it, because I wasn't even picking up their calls. Finally, they came up here one weekend, and they really noticed my feelings and my reactions to all this stuff. They gave me words of encouragement about all the stuff that I've been through and all of the things that other people have been through that is way worse than this, like people tearing ACLs. I just have a partial tear in a PCL, so I feel like I should be grateful."
Perriman said that he has been buoyed by the support of his teammates and coaches. Engram has made sure that he's a part of everything. Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman communicated with him regularly, but he tried to keep the conversation away from football.
"It's difficult to continue to talk about the same subject, so we talk about other things," Trestman said. "I think football is really important to Breshad. I think being a Raven is really important to him. He wants to get back here as quickly as he can."
For Perriman, the silver lining is that he has been attending team meetings throughout the season and has had ample opportunities to study the playbook and watch film. Now, all he needs is for his knee to heal.
"When next year comes around once I finally get healthy, I feel like I'm going to be hungrier than ever," Perriman said. "I feel like I'm going to come back harder than I ever have."