There wasn't a specific moment. Wide receiver Paul Richardson just knew.
"I'm back," he said without hesitation. "Practice was confirmation."
Richardson returned to the practice field last Monday, about nine months after tearing the ACL in his left knee during the Seahawks divisional round win against the Carolina Panthers. It was the same injury that cost him a year in college. There was no sugarcoating the severity of the injury or the extent of the rehab ahead.
"I'm not an optimistic person at all," Richardson said. "I try to be as realistic as possible in a lot of different situations, and when they were telling me about statistics and the timeline I started thinking the only way you get these statistics is someone has to go over and someone has to go under. Maybe I could be that guy who didn't need this amount of time. Maybe I needed a shorter amount of time."
That was all the motivation he needed. That, and the success he found leading up to the injury.
"It was good for my confidence because I showed I could compete at this level and in the system," Richardson said. "Through my rehab that's all I was pushing for, to push my body back to contribute the way I was contributing before the injury."
Richardson scored his first NFL touchdown three games before the injury and racked up a career-high 60 receiving yards in the final regular season game of the year. After the injury he didn't need pep talks from friends or family just frequent phone calls with his agent.
"Keeping me focused and making sure I stayed on track and healthy and doing what I was supposed to do," Richardson said of those phone calls. "I was so far ahead of schedule they had to slow me down, so my agent was making sure I stayed strong and focused. He made sure I knew how important it was to be really healthy and not just feel good enough to play."
Richardson says the rehab work made him even faster than the 4.33 seconds he clocked in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. And despite his lack of optimism, admits there's an even bigger silver lining to the injury.
"Just being able to learn during this time and see where I was needed," Richardson said. "I really feel like when I get back I'm not going to be lost. I know where I fit into this offense. I know where I fit into this team and I kind of learned my role from watching."
"He's worked really hard physically to be able to get back but then he didn't kind of just go into the training room and disappear," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "He's been in meeting rooms so he's seen the coaching points. He's been in the install, so it's not like he's a blank slate. He's kind of got the information that he continues to build up, so there's probably more things he can do."
Through the first 12 games of his career, Richardson recorded just 14 catches. In the final four regular season games he accounted for 15 catches, 169 yards and a touchdown. Early on he tried to feel his way into the offense, but knows now it's much easier when you know what your role is and how to maximize it.
"I knew I was fast. I knew I liked being in open space. I knew I could make big plays and I knew I kind of fell into my role," Richardson said. "I was kind of helping Doug (Baldwin) on third downs and just off the short catch. Helping wherever I could so Russell (Wilson) knew when he came my way I could make a play for him. It was in the quick game mostly and a lot of what goes on in the quick game opens myself up in the open field. Make one guy miss and go score so that's where my role lies in the offense."
"He's got great speed," Bevell said. "He runs great routes. He can gain separation at the top of those cuts as well."
Richardson's initial uncertainly about his role and the status of his knee has given way to optimism and excitement over the impact he could have when he returns to the field.
Photos of the Seahawks first choice of the 2014 NFL Draft, WR Paul Richardson