A year's worth of pain, hard work and struggle paid off for safety Colt Anderson last Sunday in Tampa Bay.
On December 8, 2011, Anderson underwent knee reconstruction surgery to repair his ACL and meniscus after he was injured during a punt return a week earlier in Seattle.
"It was amazing. A year flew by. Credit to our training staff for getting me back," said Anderson, who had a career-high eight tackles in a start for the injured Kurt Coleman. "It just felt really good being out there and not having to worry about making the wrong cut or anything like that. I was able to play loose. I was able to have confidence in my knee."
The injury simply rubbed more salt on an already open wound. The Eagles not only lost that game in Seattle in disappointing fashion, but Anderson was without a question the team's best special teams player. A fearless coverage specialist with a knack for making tackles in open space, Anderson was the team's leader in special teams production points and special teams tackles at the time of his injury. Even though he missed the final four games of the season, Anderson was still voted Special Teams MVP by his teammates.
It was fair to question whether Anderson would ever be able to play with the same reckless abandon following the injury. Anderson rehabbed all offseason under the guidance of head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder and his staff. Although he did not practice with the team in the preseason, he was placed on the 53-man active roster to begin the season. Anderson made his season debut in Week 2 against Baltimore and had 11 special teams points in his debut.
Anderson played the following week in Arizona, but experienced a setback with the knee and missed the Week 4 win over the Giants. He didn't get down and instead just maintained the same attitude that he had while rehabbing in the offseason.
"The whole time I had a positive attitude. Everything happens for a reason, so I just kept showing up to work and just kept trying to get better and kept trying to get my knee better," Anderson said.
Just a little over a year after his knee injury, Anderson is once again the Eagles' best special teams player. He leads the team with 163 special teams production points. But last Sunday afforded him the chance to showcase his skills on the defensive side of the ball in Coleman's absence and he didn't disappoint.
In the third quarter, he flew up to the line of scrimmage to bring down Buccaneers running back Doug Martin for no gain. Anderson approached playing defense no different than special teams coverage.
"I'm trying to get the guy down no matter what," Anderson said. "If I need to go low, I'm going to go low. If I'm going to have to wrap up, I'm going to wrap up. I have the same mentality whether it's a kickoff, special teams tackle or defense tackle, just get him down."
He duplicated the same feat once again in the fourth quarter as he diagnosed the play, penetrated the line of scrimmage and stopped Martin for no gain on a second-and-7. In addition to his sound play against the run, the breakdowns in coverage that plagued the defense for most of the season did not take place at Raymond James Stadium.
"He did awesome. He plays a thousand miles an hour," strong safety Nate Allen said. "He made some plays. He did great."
On Thursday night, Anderson will likely get another chance to start with Coleman still battling a chest injury. At 5-10, 194 pounds, Anderson is trying to dispel the notion that he is too small to be a full-time defensive back. Anderson has had to do that since his days as a walk-on at Montana.
"My back's always been against the wall. You can't worry about what other people think. You just have to go out there and perform and do the best that you can," Anderson said. "I've always had confidence in my ability to play."
Just a year ago, Anderson's football future was being determined on an operating table. Now, Anderson is getting a chance to direct it once again on the field.
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