Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Brian Price missed a good chunk of his rookie season in 2010 with a serious injury, one that required an intensive recovery process and left many onlookers wondering if he'd even be ready to play by the time the 2011 campaign rolled around.
Ask Price directly, however, and he'll say there was never any question in his mind that he'd be putting on his uniform on opening day.
"It's the name of the game when you're injured," Price said. "Doubts come up, but it's important to remember that you can't defeat yourself. Can't nobody stop me but myself. So I'm not surprised how far I've come, I just had to be hungry. It would have been easy to say, 'Ok, I'll quit,' or, 'I don't want to get up and work out today,' but I made myself do it and this is why I'm here today. I'm more hungry than ever and I will not be denied. I hate being on IR and that just motivates me and makes me fired up to want to go out and dominate. I just love playing hard and I love football. This is what I do."
Perhaps what's most remarkable about Price's comeback isn't that he made it back to playing football at all, but that he's been able to do so at a very high level. Price has tallied two sacks, 19 tackles, six tackles for loss and eight quarterback pressures so far, and has helped anchor the middle of the Bucs' defensive front.
In fact, ESPN.com's NFC South beat writer Pat Yasinskas recently named Price to his midseason All-NFC South defensive squad.
"As far as that honor, that's big, but the season's not over," Price said. "I've just got to keep fighting. It's good motivation, but I can't get distracted, can't get a big head. I've got to stay grounded and focused and still hungry."
And in what must be a scary tidbit to consider for quarterbacks and offensive coordinators around the division, Price says that in addition to his always-strong mental makeup, he still has yet to reach his peak physically.
"I've been getting better," Price said. "I started off under 50 percent and now I'm way better than I was. I still have pain, but I just thank God every day that I can get up and come play football and be close to full speed now. It's a good feeling."
Unfortunately, Price lost his fellow young star-in-the-making, Gerald McCoy, to a recent injury, thinning the Bucs' ranks at the defensive tackle position. But the team moved quickly to bring in veteran defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who for years was regarded as one of the most fearsome DTs in the league.
Although Haynesworth's time in Tampa is in its infancy, it's a signing Price feels will prove to be extremely beneficial – not only to the defense as a whole, but to himself and the other D-linemen in particular.
"It was a bummer losing [McCoy], but also it was a blessing in disguise getting Albert," Price said. "You never want to lose one of your comrades, one of your players, because it stinks being on IR, plus having the same injury, so it's tough on him. But getting Albert, we've got a vet and somebody we can learn from on and off the field and share his knowledge. He's a very smart guy and he loves the game.
"Looking at the news, you look at people just bashing him, and perception is everything. But when you meet the guy and know his story, you understand why he didn't like the other places he was. But when he got here, he loved it. He loved how we played. That's why he had seven tackles last game. He was flying around having fun and he looked like it was his first year in the league. So he's a good player to have around and I'm just glad he's a part of the Buccaneers organization."
Although Price has been consistently playing well all season, and Haynesworth could prove to be a boon to the Bucs' defensive unit, the team has hit a rough patch of late and the results in Haynesworth's first game were particularly frustrating last week against Houston. Furthermore, the defensive line's sack totals have slowed some after the young group got off to a hot start earlier in the season, tallying 10 sacks between Weeks Two and Four.
According to Price, however, the solution to nearly all the unit's woes is very simple.
"Stopping the run," Price said. "Stop the run, and they have to pass. Being able to rush the passer is a gift, so we've got to stop the run and force them to pass and we'll get more opportunities. The Texans only threw the ball like 12 times, I believe, so if we would've just stopped the run, we would've gotten the chance to get after them some more. That's just the key. We've got to be on all cylinders. Pass rush and pass coverage go hand-in-hand, so if we get an opportunity to rush, we've got to take advantage of it, because it's a gift."
Things certainly won't get any easier for the Bucs as they prepare to play the reigning world champion Green Bay Packers on Sunday. But with a goal in mind to stop the run – creating more opportunities to rush the passer – a new, veteran teammate at his side, and a nice midseason honor to his name, Price is looking for even bigger and better things down the stretch.
"I'm my biggest critic, so there's a lot of work that I can do," he said. "I could have more sacks, and I can play way better. I'm not going to get complacent. It's easy to get complacent, but if I look at what I've done, it's really nothing. I want to do something spectacular. I want to be different. I want to set myself apart from everybody else.
"So I'm going to keep on grinding. It's the second part of the season so I've got to get my second wind and keep on pushing and keep on going harder, because it's easy to slack off and get complacent and be like, 'You know, I'm good enough, I've got two sacks.' But no, I want a lot of sacks, I want a lot of tackles, so I've got to keep pushing and keep fighting."