Andre Anthony's long LSU playing career came to an abrupt end last September, as he tore an ACL on a non-contact play against Central Michigan. He had first arrived in Baton Rouge in 2016, taking a redshirt year and then missing the next season thanks to a different knee injury. Anthony then played four more years for LSU, though the last one as a grad student was only three games long to his season-ending mishap.
Now Anthony is back on the football field just a few days shy of eight months after his injury against the Chippewas, as he's taking part in a rookie mini-camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers selected him in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL Draft after not addressing the outside linebacker position in the first six rounds. Anthony is not yet fully recovered – he expects to be full-go by the start of training camp – but he is taking part in drills and he has a strategy for making a strong first impression while not yet physically at his peak.
"Do the most," said Anthony of his approach to this stage of his transition from college to the pros. "Do what you can do, and what you can do go 100 percent at it, regardless of the situation of where you got picked. Do what you can. And my situation, coming in hurt, just do what you can, and when you can do something go hard at it so they can see, 'Okay, he's trying and he's steady developing.' Showing that you know the playbook so when it's time to get out there [they say], 'Okay, we can trust that he knows what he's doing.' So it's not just going out there and seeing what you can do physically."
Anthony's 2017 experience with a similar injury helped him get through his current recovery process, both mentally and physically. It was a tough blow to absorb, though. After leading the Tigers with 5.5 sacks as a senior in 2020, he had gotten off to a blazing start in what should have been a showcase season for NFL scouts. Anthony was among national leaders in sacks (3.5) and tackles for loss (4.0) before he went down shortly before halftime of LSU's third game of the year. Earlier in that game, he had picked up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown.
"Oh yeah, it was [emotional], just because it's your senior year, obviously, and you started off so great," said Anthony. "Coming into yourself and becoming a team leader, and a lot of the stuff that we went through years before, it was just a lot of emotions. But like I said, it's something I've been through [before]. I had an injury my freshman year so I kind of knew what to expect."
That means Anthony, who is nearing the end of his physical recovery, knows that the next big hurdle will be mental. He has to trust that his knee is ready to let him do all of the things he used to do on the football field, at the same high level.
"That's the process that I'm going through right now," said Anthony. "Going out there and doing drills and team [drills] and stuff like that, just knowing like, 'You're alright.' Just trying to push it in your head that you're good, it's healed. You've just got to get back used to moving and trusting that it's going to be fine."
The stakes are fairly high for Anthony. The Buccaneers could definitely use a little more depth at edge rusher, but seventh-round picks are never a guarantee to make the 53-man roster. He could have used the rest of his senior season to continue honing his game and in recent months he could have been focusing on adding to his arsenal of pass-rush moves rather than working to get his knee back in order. But Anthony did find another way to make use of the rest of his final year at LSU, even if he didn't get back on the field after Week Three.
Essentially, Anthony became something of a coach to LSU's younger defenders, and that in turn helped him learn more about his own game. He would stand next to his young teammates on the sideline and point out things that were happening that they didn't necessarily understand yet.
"I guess me coaching kind of helped me as far as the mental aspect of the game, to let them know what I saw," Anthony recalled. "'Maybe this will work, maybe that will work.' Same thing like coming here. You see some of the older guys that you've seen on TV, seeing what they see, just learning from each other. The main thing is, they say the best way to learn is to coach. Me coaching up them, I learned a lot about myself and some other stuff that I could get better at. It was good."
One of the main lessons Anthony took away from that period in his life was to be relentless and creative on the field.
"Mine is staying active," said Anthony of what he will be focusing on when he gets back to full speed. "Just not having one move in my head and if that doesn't work. Just kind of being active, being violent. If that move doesn't work, go to another one. Just keep going, because you never know when something's going to work and you can get there."