One very-happy return

Posted Aug 22, 2010

After 10 months of grueling rehab from a compound fracture of his right leg, Leon Washington not only got back on the field in the Seahawks’ preseason game Saturday night he got back into the end zone.

The stat sheet said that he ran four times for a modest 19 yards.

But considering the miles Leon Washington traveled to get to that point Saturday night, it’s easy to understand the smile that was his constant companion in the Seahawks’ locker room at Qwest Field. Yes, Washington was acquired in a draft day trade with the New York Jets. But his journey back from a severely broken leg last season also included overcoming mental as well as physical barriers – and even some doubt.

Not his, of course.

“Not one bit. Not one bit,” Washington said when asked if he ever questioned his ability to return from the compound fracture of his right fibula. “First of all, I have ultimate faith. And second of all, I have faith in my preparation.”

Still, more than one cynic wondered aloud if the former Pro Bowl kick returner and multi-purpose back would be able to regain the speed and explosiveness that set his game apart after surgery to place a steel rod in his damaged leg.

The injury was almost as difficult to watch as Washington’s recovery from it has been. It happened Oct. 19, in the Jets’ Week 7 game in Oakland, when 300-pound defensive tackle Tommy Kelly fell on Washington’s leg while his foot was planted.

“As soon as I saw it I knew it was over,” Jets center Damien Woody told reporters after the game. “You never want to see anything like that. It was an inside zone (play) and his foot was on the ground and Tommy Kelly hit it. I could just see it crunch. I’ve never seen anything like that. The bone broke the skin and I saw blood just squirting. I knew right then.”

Washington, however, knew right then that he’d be back. Eventually.

He had to stand and watch as the Seahawks went through their post-draft minicamp and subsequent OTA practices. When training camp began in late July, he was brought a along slowly. A kickoff return here. A pass route in another non-contact drill there. He finally worked his way into running – between the tackles, no less – in a goal-line drill two weeks ago. But he still was held out of the preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans last week.

That’s what made Saturday night so wonderfully fulfilling, and emotionally draining.

The Seahawks lost, 27-24 to the Green Packers, but included in Washington’s 2010 debut was an 11-yard run up the gut and into the end zone. He also had a 4-yard run earlier in the nine-play, 80-yard drive that ended with his score – his first carry in a game since that fateful day last October.

Which was better? That first touch? Or the point-producing run?

Washington sighed, thought and then sighed again before offering, “I would say the score. And this is the reason why: Before the play started, I told the offensive linemen, ‘Hey, let’s punch this in.’ I looked at (center) Chris Spencer and said, ‘Hey, this is my play. Let’s punch it in.’

“So having that faith in the offensive linemen, I love that. I missed that. So that was great.”

That first carry also was significant because it was, well, the first carry.

“I got hit up a little bit,” Washington said. “OK. I’m all right. I can do this. So it gets the butterflies out.”

Before punching out for the night, Washington added a couple of 2-yard runs and a 6-yard gain on a screen pass.

“I thought Leon did a really nice job,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He was really pumped up to make a statement that he was back and ready to go. It’s been a long recovery for him. This guy has been stellar through all the time that he has been with us. He’s had a great attitude about it. He was never going to be denied. He has looked good, and to get a nice run there that was really good.”

One good run likely will mean the opportunity to make others – and earlier – in this week’s preseason game against the Vikings in Minneapolis. While incumbent starter Julius Jones got the nod in the opener and Justin Forsett started against the Packers, it is Washington’s turn as the competition at running back now includes three heads and six legs.

“We decided that somewhere months ago about how we were going to do this in the first couple of games,” Carroll said of going with Jones one week and Forsett the next. “Just give these guys a chance to compete, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

“There’s a good chance that Leon will start next week, and we’ll see how he does in that role. That’s what our plan was, to give these guys a chance to go with the first group and show us what they’ve got.”

There’s one thing Washington definitely wants to tweak before showing his victory celebration again. After crossing the goal line, he spread his arms as he swooshed across the end zone.

“I was told I need to flap it a little bit, because people think I’m doing the Jet thing,” Washington said. “So next time I’ve got to flap it a little bit.”

He’s hoping to have ample opportunities to refine his victory lap this season.