- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ryan Broyles has had an NFL career full of one thing: waiting.
The third-year receiver waited to get healthy, first from an ACL torn in college, then the other during his rookie season with the Detroit Lions and then a third time when he ruptured his Achilles tendon against Dallas last season.
The way he viewed it, others were waiting, too. Like the general manager who drafted him, Martin Mayhew. And the coaching staff he initially played under, led by Jim Schwartz, and even the one that inherited him, led by Jim Caldwell.
All these people were waiting and saw none of the production expected out of a second-round pick.
“In a sense, yeah,” Broyles said Monday night. “If you come out with an ACL, the first year I came in I wasn’t really practicing during the preseason and (they were) holding me out of games here and there. Second year around, same type of deal. Inactive the first couple of games or whatever it is, and I’m fortunate enough that they still believed in me.
“This time around, I feel a lot healthier at this point, and I’m going to continue to gain confidence. I haven’t had a full preseason yet since I’ve been here. I haven’t been pain-free since I’ve been here.”
He entered his third NFL training camp buried on the roster, running with mostly second- and third-team players who likely will not be on an NFL roster a month from now. He understood why, too. He needed to prove himself again, needed to prove he was healthy and still had something left in legs that had been battered and bruised both at Oklahoma and in the NFL. He needed to show the 30 catches for 395 yards and two touchdowns he has in his career are likely less than a season of fully healthy work for him instead of two years of output.
Stepping on the field, even though it was a preseason game, was important Saturday night for that reason. He is, as he said, the healthiest he has been since being drafted by Detroit. It is why he said that for a moment Saturday he thought to himself, “Wow, I’m still wearing this NFL jersey right now.”
Although he didn’t play with the starters, he caught three passes for 27 yards.
Broyles isn’t completely back yet. The explosion he wants and needs is still eluding him, but that’s expected from his prior ACL tears.
Saturday was a much-needed step. His initial roster standing didn’t bother him. Neither do people who wonder whether or not he’ll be able to return to his old form that made him an attractive NFL prospect to begin with.
It’s been that way for years, including his most recent rehabilitation process in Texas.
“I really don’t pay attention to what’s going on around me. It’s really myself. It’s a battle within myself and how I feel,” Broyles said. “There are days where you’re like, ‘Dang, am I ever going to make it back?’ You know what I mean?
“I’ve been through it all, so I’m just really blessed to feel as good as I am right now. But this is just a start.”
The flashes from Broyles have been more frequent, too, from his ability to cut and run upfield against Cleveland to a catch he made in practice Monday night, where he leaped in the air to grab a high pass from Dan Orlovsky.
Those are signs the explosiveness he covets is close to possibly returning and the chances of a finally healthy full season are in range.
Despite his newfound health, Broyles still has to wait a little longer -- although he has control of it this time. As he bides his time for the explosiveness to return, he can push his way back up the depth chart and ensure a roster spot.
Those people he viewed as waiting for him aren’t any more. Schwartz is in Buffalo. Mayhew is here, but the new coaching staff has no ties to him, no allegiance to him. And he knows that. Yet the new coaches appear impressed.
“I have not seen him where he’s inhibited at all,” Caldwell said. “He’s been able to run, catch, explode, jump. You saw him here in practice, even. He can get up, but he’s feeling comfortable with it. He’s doing a lot of good things.”
Good things are important for Broyles because they signify one thing: All that waiting is almost done.