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The former Hokie receiver said he's determined to not let an injury-filled season define his career.
JAMES D. SMITH/SportsShooter.com | File 2012,Former Virginia Tech receiver Danny Coale (81) is determined not to let an injury-filled season define his career.
JAMES D. SMITH/SportsShooter.com | File 2012
Danny Coale (81) was cut by the Dallas Cowboys after multiple injuries last season.
JAMES D. SMITH/SportsShooter.com | File 2012
Danny Coale (81) is focused on getting back to 100 percent before the season. “If I’m healthy, I know I can compete,” he said.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
In the four years after he took a redshirt at Virginia Tech, wide receiver Danny Coale never missed a game, playing in 55 straight contests to conclude his college career.
So an injury-riddled debut season in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys couldn’t have been any stranger.
Coale suffered a stress fracture in his foot during Dallas’ first organized team activity last spring, endured quad and hamstring problems as he tried to make the roster and finally saw his star-crossed rookie season come to an end when he tore an anterior cruciate ligament while on the practice squad in November.
“It was just a mess of a year,” he said.
Now, motivated by last season’s frustrations and heartened by what he thinks has been an ahead-of-schedule rehab program, Coale is back with the Cowboys as they begin OTAs Tuesday, eager to prove to the club that he’s not someone who will spend all of his time in the training room.
“I just want to show them I am a player that can play healthy and stay healthy,” Coale said.
The plays on which the former fifth-round pick got injured seemed innocuous. The Cowboys were doing a simple 5-10-5 conditioning drill at the end of their first OTA last May. Coale ran five yards in one direction and planted to reverse course. That’s when he heard a pop.
The stress fracture in his left foot and subsequent surgery kept him out for the rest of summer workouts and into training camp. Coupled with a quad strain that essentially limited him to one preseason game, it ended his hopes of making the 53-man roster. He was cut but still signed with the Cowboys as a practice squad player.
Coale still couldn’t avoid injuries, however. He missed two weeks with a hamstring issue and was dealt the final blow on a special teams drill in November.
The Cowboys were working on double-teaming a gunner on kickoff coverage, with Coale filling the role. Untouched on one play, he planted to chase the ballcarrier and his knee gave out on him.
“They were moves I’ve done my entire life,” Coale said.
He had ACL surgery in December and was given a 6-to-9 month recovery timetable. Coale stayed in Dallas to rehab, leaving for only a week in February to get married in Pittsburgh and go on a brief honeymoon.
Last week marked five months since his surgery and Coale and the Cowboys have been encouraged by his progress. He’s not wearing a brace and has been running routes with quarterbacks for three weeks, although he hasn’t gone up against any defenders.
The hope is that he’ll be able to expand his repertoire during OTAs the next few weeks and at the team’s mandatory mini-camp June 11-13, although his goal still remains to be ready by training camp in July.
“Each thing that we’ve done, each new challenge that we’ve presented, we’ve been able to do,” Coale said. “I mean, I’m going to have to do it better and get stronger and everything like that, but we’ve been at least been able to do it, which is encouraging to me.”
Things are different as Coale enters his second year. The four-year rookie deal he signed last spring was voided when he was cut. Coale worked on a practice squad contract last year and was re-signed as a free agent to a two-year deal after the season.
“They decided to re-sign me, which was great,” he said. “With the injuries I had, there was no reason for them to.”
He’s had more time to soak in the playbook and get accustomed to the speed of the NFL, but he has a new position coach in former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, who played receiver at Virginia from 1987-90, although the two haven’t sparred over the Hokies-’Hoos rivalry yet.
There’s also more competition. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are established starters at receiver. Dwayne Harris began to emerge toward the end of last season, undrafted free agent Cole Beasley made the roster as a reserve last year and the Cowboys used a third-round pick this spring on Baylor wideout Terrance Williams.
Nevertheless, Coale, who has worked at all three of Dallas’ receiver spots, is focused on getting himself right before worrying about where he fits on the roster.
“If I’m healthy, I know I can compete,” he said. “And if [my knee] progresses each day and each week, then come training camp I’ll tackle that question. But right now it’s just the knee. And it’s going well so far.”
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