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After yet another rehab session on Friday, Sidney Rice was sweating. But the on-the-mend wide receiver also was smiling.
While most of the Seahawks’ veterans already have begun their extended break until training camp opens in late July, Rice continues to work on the strength and range of motion in his shoulders after having surgery on each this offseason.
That’s what the perspiration was all about. But what about the smile that at times blossoms into a full-blown grin? Rice realizes that with each rehab workout he is one step closer to returning to the player he wants to be – and the Seahawks need him to be.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and then lifting both arms. “I’m going to continue this rehab and get back out as soon as possible.
“I’m feeling better and better every day, and getting stronger every day.”
Things didn’t go as planned last year, when Rice was signed in free agency after playing his first four NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. He damaged the labrum in his right shoulder while battling for a pass in a training camp practice, which forced him to sit out the first two regular-season games and then limited his effectiveness in the nine games he did play (32 receptions for 484 yards and two touchdowns).
Then Rice got two concussions in a three-game span and the team decided to place him on injured reserve for the final five games.
“The shoulder wasn’t really the problem, I was battling through that concussion thing,” he said. “That’s a league policy, and I can’t argue with that. But I could have played through the shoulders the whole season, no doubt.”
It was while having his right shoulder checked out that an old tear also was detected in the labrum in his left shoulder, so he had 11 anchors surgically installed to stabilize the joint in each shoulder.
“The left one wasn’t bothering as much, but I figured there was something wrong with it because it would hurt some times,” Rice said. “So when they got in there they saw that it was a full tear.”
When you play the game the way Rice does, which is using his off-the-charts catch-radius to grab passes others can only wish they could catch, not having full extension and range of motion is like trying to play the position without hands.
“Basically, yeah, because you need those shoulders to get up in the air,” he said. “You fall on the ground a lot. Things like that. So you want your shoulders to be stable and in place.”
That, however, was not the case last season.
The hope is that with all that almost behind him, Rice can work on getting stronger, and therefore more durable, for the coming season. He already has added 13 pounds – of muscle, he is quick to point out – and now weighs 212. Rice wants to report to training camp at 215 or 216.
“I’m planning to play around 209 to 212 this year,” said Rice, who weighed 202 pounds last season.
More of Rice is better, because the importance of having him – and having him healthy – can’t be overstated. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell summed up the enormity of that fact in seven little words: “We really need to get him back.”
Bevell knows just how significant a role Rice can play in what the Seahawks are trying to accomplish because they also were together in Minnesota, where Rice caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns during his Pro Bowl season in 2009. Bevell also saw the series of double-take catches that Rice made early in training camp last summer, before his shoulder began limiting his catching range and impact on the passing game.
Even with the bum shoulders, Rice showed flashes of what can bring: eight catches for 109 yards against the Arizona Cardinals in his first game back; a 52-yard TD catch against the Atlanta Falcons the next; and a seven-catch, 102-yard game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“That’s really a big one right there for us,” Bevell said, “is to be able to get Sid back.”
And Rice cannot wait to get back, after missing the final five games last season and not being to play the way he knows he can before that.
“Of course standing around and not playing at all was the worst,” he said.
Rice’s availability also plays into the three-man competition at quarterback. Because regardless of whether it’s incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson, free-agent addition Matt Flynn or rookie Russell Wilson doing the throwing, the QB will be better off if Rice is at the other end of those passes.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this team is a much better team when I’m out there on the field,” he said. “I can coach the guys up all I want from all the stuff I know from being in the offense for so long, but it’s just not doing this team any good to have me standing on the sideline.” Read