TAMPA — When Raheem Morris first learned the extent of Brian Price's injury, optimism was not the first thing that came to mind.
"I've never known anyone to get their hamstrings ripped from their (butt) and then come back and play," the Bucs coach said of the defensive tackle, his 2010 second-round draft pick. "You can probably find the actual medical term, but that's what it was. You look at the X-ray and it's really something."
Then, Morris looked for something else: hope.
"I had one person to rely on, and that was (team trainer) Todd (Torescelli)," Morris said. "He said, 'Look, this guy's going to come back. I know we've never seen this before, but I'm telling you, he will.' "
And now, he has.
Price is expected to make his 2011 debut in Saturday's preseason game against the Dolphins, completing the comeback from one of the more stomach-turning football injuries you'll ever encounter.
Price underwent surgery to repair a fractured pelvis and the associated hamstring issues, with both muscles tearing away from the ischial tuberosity, the portion of the pelvic bone to which they are connected. The procedure required the placement of two screws to reattach the muscles.
It's not something Morris or anyone on the Bucs staff had ever been associated with.
For the average person, the injury would be troublesome and painful, experts say. For a football player, it's a monumental hurdle, one Price seems to have finally cleared.
"The pelvic fracture combined with the hamstring issue makes this a pretty rare injury," said Dr. Jeffrey Spang, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. "It's really like having two major injuries."
Injuries that are practically unheard of in the NFL.
"I fix about one of those per year," said Dr. John Xerogeanes, chief of sports medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "And I've never had one in a high-performance athlete."
Price downplays the magnitude of what he has overcome, but there's no masking his eagerness.
"I'm looking forward to having fun and getting out there with my defensive line," he said. "I'm real excited."
Price has been through a long and difficult process. It began during last year's training camp, when what was thought to be hamstring strains prevented him from being a daily participant.
When his condition didn't improve — he was experiencing severe pain — team doctors kept exploring the possible source, eventually discovering the fracture and hamstring separations. It's common for the extent of such injuries to be difficult to diagnose, doctors say.
"Initially, it's very, very painful," said Dr. David Leffers, chairman of orthopaedics and sports medicine at USF Health.
Price was placed on injured reserve just five games into his rookie season, then had the surgery. According to doctors, patients require three to six months of inactivity after the procedure before normal activity can resume.
For an NFL defensive lineman, that's particularly frustrating because it prevents the player from working out.
Once he was cleared to begin rehab, Price, who weighed 295 when he was drafted, was confronted with extensive soreness and, inevitably, weight gain. The weight, in addition to being one his biggest obstacles, led some to question Price's commitment and conditioning.
Morris vehemently defends his player.
"It's been hard for me to bash him knowing what I know," Morris said. "To knock him for gaining weight and to say he eats cheeseburgers and all that, calling him (former Bucs running back) Derrick Ward, that's ridiculous. Derrick Ward didn't have hamstring issues. Derrick Ward had lazy issues."
Price underwent surgery in October and didn't resume light running until midsummer. He tried many creative ways of staying in shape, including zumba dance classes (because it was not a physically stressful workout). But there were always limitations.
One thing Price could do was lift weights.
"The guy came back and he was the strongest guy on the football team," Morris said. "I know he looked 330 (pounds), and he was. But the stuff that he could do — the bench press, the (weight-lifting) machines — he definitely did."
Then, it became a matter of working Price back onto the field. But because the Bucs have no history of dealing with an injury such as this, there was much trial and error involved. Sometimes, trainers would push Price through the pain. Other times, they'd have him back off.
The process remains fluid even now, three weeks into the preseason.
"I know it was extremely painful," said center Jeff Faine, who often is matched against Price in practice. "Throughout training camp, the thing that a lot of people don't know is that the advice from the doctors was to fight through the pain. So, me going against him every day, I would feel him wincing and I know it would pull at him and bother him. But he's fought through it and he's getting better. It really shows the character he has."
Price has never wavered in his belief that he'd bounce back. But he admits to some weak moments.
"I didn't know if I would be able to get off the ball the way I used to or play the way I used to play," he said. "It was hard for me. I wasn't down all the time, but as a human being, that's natural. I just tried not to let those moments last too long."
Like the injury itself, Price overcame those down moments. If he takes on opponents with a similar vigor, they, perhaps, should be the ones to worry.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com.
Illustration by JADE PILGROM | Times