The date — Oct. 28, 2012 — is not one Rams safety Matt Daniels ever will forget. It marks the last time he played in a football game.
“I was on punt return, actually, blocking for Austin (Pettis) and he got tackled and kind off rolled into me,’’ Daniels said, recalling the details of the major knee injury he suffered in the Rams’ 45-7 to New England in London last season. “I felt it right away, but I thought it might just be an MCL, but sure enough, it got the MCL and ACL.
After waiting for the MCL to heal, Daniels had surgery to repair the ACL in December and has been rehabbing ever since. Monday, he came off the physically unable to perform list and took part in his first 2013 practice.
“I kind of took things slow today ... a little individual drills, a little seven-on-seven and maybe eight reps of ‘team,’ but I felt good. I felt real good,’’ he said. “I think the biggest thing right now is getting used to the speed of the game and training my eyes to look in the right places and seeing the entire field.’’
Informed Friday that he would make his practice debut Monday, Daniels endured an anxiety-filled weekend.
“I was just trying to keep calm; I feel like I’ve been removed for so long from the game,’’ he said. “All day, I had butterflies in my stomach and was nervous and scared for some reason ... it just felt like Christmas Day all over again.’’
Monday’s workout capped a long and challenging road back for Daniels, an undrafted free agent from Duke University who appeared in four games on special teams as a Rams rookie in 2012. The recovery period for an ACL injury generally lasts from eight to 12 months and requires complete dedication.
Since the start of the rookie tryouts, in May, while teammates practiced Daniels could be seen on a regular basis going through the demanding and often tedious rehab process with Rams trainer Reggie Scott and his staff.
“I think the biggest challenge was getting the flexibility back,’’ he said. “The knee gets so stiff and they were cranking it pretty good. I was dang-near about to cry. But I stayed focused through the workouts and during the last few days, when Reg was really pushing me to the limit, I could just feel myself regaining my confidence in the knee.
“You know, I love those guys in the training room, but it gets to the point where you get sick and tired of seeing ’em, I hope and pray to God I’m back out here on the field for good now.’’
Daniels continued: “It’s a lot of work and it’s really been an everyday grind. But I have a great support system not only in St. Louis but with my family, so I just tried to stay strong-minded and focused on what I needed to do to get back with my team.’’
Daniels’ hard work was not lost on Rams coach Jeff Fisher.
“Matt’s worked extremely hard and when you go through what he went through from a rehab standpoint, we know he’s in good shape,’’ he said. “He’s really done a nice job.’’
Daniels will not play Thursday when the Rams open their exhibition schedule in Cleveland. But he’s hopeful of seeing action Aug. 17 in the team’s home debut, against the Green Bay Packers.
“It’s a long camp — we haven’t even played a game yet,’’ the 6-foot, 212-pounder said. “I know the playbook and I’m comfortable. It’s just a matter of getting back out there to put a product on the field.’’
Torry Holt made his first appearance of the season at Rams Park on Monday, giving the team’s young receivers at least a couple of days working with him and fellow guest coach Isaac Bruce.
• WR Nick Johnson (hamstring) and DT Al Lapuaho (hand) rejoined practice. DE Chris Long did not practice, getting a veteran’s day off.
• Former Rams OL Grant Williams took in Monday’s workout. He’s a volunteer assistant at Westminster Christian and was joined on the sideline by other members of the Wildcats’ coaching staff.
• Following Sunday’s off day, the Rams looked sharp Monday during a workout that drew 804 fans.
“Last time (after a day off), it took us a while to get them going,’’ Fisher said. “We talked about it and they came out (today) and were actually making plays. ... I was pleased.’’
• WR Brian Quick going up strong to grab a contested pass from Quinton Pointer on a deep post. Later, Quick showed excellent concentration while making a catch down the left sideline with DB Darian Stewart bearing down on him.
• Sam Bradford and Chris Givens hooked up on a couple of quality plays early in the 11-on-11 session.
On a pass from Bradford to Austin Pettis, however, second-year CB Janoris Jenkins came up with an impressive juggling interception.
The Rams’ final practice before heading to Cleveland for their exhibition opener will run today from 3:30-5:30 p.m. in Earth City. The session is open to the public.