G Ken Blackman has worked hard to return from a serious knee injury
Knee injuries are not uncommon in professional sports. Survey any team roster in the National Football League, and you'll probably find a few players in various stages of recovery from knee ailments.
The knee injury suffered by Ken Blackman in 1998 was uncommon, however. As described by a Tampa Bay Buccaneer trainer familiar with Blackman's history, the former Cincinnati guard twisted his right knee very awkwardly in a game against Denver on the first day of November in '88, which caused his kneecap to take a piece of his femur off.
While many knee injuries are overcome in the NFL these days by determinination, hard work and superior medical attention, Blackman's injury was more severe than most. He has yet to play in a game since and he is no longer with the Bengals.
Nevertheless, there appears to be a happy ending to this story. On Tuesday, Blackman joined the Buccaneers for the beginning of the third week of voluntary summer workouts. Lining up as the second-team right guard for team drills, Blackman successfully and happily completed all three practices during the post-Memorial Day week. It was a big step for the big lineman (6-6, 320 pounds), who had remained confident he would return throughout the past year-and-a-half.
"I never doubted," said Blackman, when asked if he was surprised to have made it back to this point. "I never gave up. It was kind of unknown. I was just going to do the best I can to get where I am now and just keep progressing from there."
Though it was a long road, Blackman has progressed significantly, to the point where the Bucs' training staff estimated him to be at about 85-90% ready to suit up. Blackman felt even more confident.
"I'm in the 90s, the high 90s I'd say," he said. "I feel very good, I'm running really good. Like I said, I'm just working on my technique. It's a little rusty from taking the time off."
The Buccaneers signed Blackman last November 24th after he was released by the Bengals during training camp. Blackman had been Cincinnati's starting right guard for the 1996-98 seasons after being drafted by the Bengals in the third round in '96. He was considered one of the Bengals' top linemen before his injury, but was not close to being ready to return last August.
The Buccaneers believed he would make it back to the field and signed him last year with an eye on 2000. Should he continue to progress as expected – all parties involved think he will be at 100% by training camp – he could add very valuable depth to a reworked Buccaneer line. Head Coach Tony Dungy knows that most discussion of that new front wall centers around the additions of Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel, with little thought given to last November's acquisition.
"He hasn't been healthy and been out there and been in games, so he's been overlooked," said Dungy. "But he started a lot of games in Cincinnati. We're happy we got him and we think he can help us."
Dungy only saw Blackman in action a few times last year, when he was kept on the active roster but was inactive each week. He was eager to see him peform in this round of summer workouts, but had to wait while the guard left camp to attend to a family situation. Dungy was just as pleased as Blackman to see him back in action this past week.
"He actually practiced about twice with us last year during the course of the season," the coach said, "but as far as extended time and getting into teamwork, it's been awhile. I know he's happy about being in there."
Blackman chose the same words. "It's been awhile," he said, "but it feels good.
"I've just got to work on technique, shake some of the rust off and get back into the swing of things again. It's coming along real nice."
While there is one more week of the voluntary workouts remaining, Dungy is already confident that Blackman is ready to be a factor in training camp in July. "He's coming along," said Dungy. "He's going to be fine. It's the fatigue factor more than anything else from not having done football drills. He's done a lot of conditioning and rehab, but not actually what you have to do as far as blocking people."
Until now, that is.