Eric Berry was back on the Kansas City Chiefs' practice field Wednesday for the first time since early in training camp, the first step toward the star safety being ready for games.
When that could happen remains unclear.
Berry had torn his Achilles' tendon in last season's opener, but was back on the practice field over the summer. He began training camp and looked as if he'd be ready for the season, but then was sidelined by a troublesome heel problem that seemingly nobody completely understood.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid kept calling Berry "day to day," even as it stretched to week to week and month to month, and has maintained ever since August that he was slowly getting better.
"We'll just see how he's doing. There's no pressure there or any of that. Just see how he feels and take it play to play," Reid said ahead of Wednesday's afternoon practice. "I think he's just as curious as we are to see how he feels. We're going to go easy with him."
It seems unlikely that Berry will be ready by Sunday, when the Chiefs (9-2) play their first game after a bye in Oakland. But there will be four more regular-season games, and getting Berry up to speed in time for what Kansas City hopes is a deep playoff run is most important.
"This week, next week, I don't care. I just want to make sure he's healthy," Reid said. "The one thing about Eric, this is killing him to watch. He loves to play. It tears him up not to be out there, but at the same time we have to do it smart. Those juices get going and everything is OK."
The five-time Pro Bowl selection certainly knows how to make a comeback.
Berry missed most of a season earlier in his career when he tore knee ligaments, and the injury to his Achilles tendon scuttled another season. Berry also missed the end of a season when he was diagnosed with cancer, only to be declared cancer-free by the following summer in time for training camp.
Berry has been around the team all season, juicing up the defense while helping a young secondary as a pseudo coach. He's been in meeting rooms, traveled to road games and maintained a constant presence in the locker room, where his stuff is hung close to rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
"He's up here as much as anyone," Mahomes said. "He's up here as much as I am. He's up here as much as anyone except Coach Reid. I know he wants to be on that field. He's going to train and keep himself right so that when he gets an opportunity like he has now, he'll be ready to go."
The Chiefs have struggled at safety all season, signing veteran Ron Parker on the eve of the season because they were so short-handed. Daniel Sorensen broke his leg in training camp and only recently was back on the field, and rookie Armani Watts landed on injured reserve as he was getting up to speed.
Not surprisingly, the Chiefs have been gouged by opposing offenses most of the year.
They are allowing more than 400 yards and 26.7 points per game, both near the bottom of the league. Their pass defense is last at 297.2 yards per game, and their inability to get stops in the red zone has been due in part by the unsteady play of their safeties.
But beyond the physical boon Berry would provide is the emotional lift.
Yes, he's been around the team all season. But offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz said there's a different feeling when one of the team's longest-tenured and most vocal leaders suits up.
"He's the guy that gets everybody hyped and ready to go," Schwartz said, "and that's team wide, whether it's offense or defense. It's great to have a guy like that around. We'll see how that situation goes, but big for the defense and also big for the team."
Notes: C Mitch Morse (concussion) returned to practice for the first time since getting hurt Oct. 14 in New England. ... WR Sammy Watkins (foot) remained out of practice. He played a few snaps against the Rams before the bye before deciding that the injury was too severe to continue. It's unclear when he will be ready again. ... Reid gave a shout-out to Sporting Kansas City, the MLS club that plays Portland on Thursday night in the Western Conference finals. "Great for the city," he said.