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Historically fast healer Cam Akers hopes to put hurt on Bucs defense

The former FSU star was back in the Rams’ lineup 5 -1/2 months after tearing an Achilles tendon.
Roughly six months after tearing his right Achilles tendon, Rams tailback Cam Akers totaled 95 yards in Monday night's 34-11 playoff romp of the Cardinals.
Roughly six months after tearing his right Achilles tendon, Rams tailback Cam Akers totaled 95 yards in Monday night's 34-11 playoff romp of the Cardinals. [ JAE C. HONG | AP ]
Published Jan. 19|Updated Jan. 20

TAMPA — Only a couple of months back, the notion of Cam Akers walking to a postgame podium — much less juking and jump-cutting through the midsection of the Cardinals’ defense — with nary a limp seemed preposterous.

Yet there he was Monday night, bedecked in a hoodie and humility, addressing his staggering evolution from a ruptured right Achilles tendon to rupturing Arizona’s psyche and season.

“Just blessed, man,” the second-year Rams tailback and two-time Florida State 1,000-yard rusher said.

“Being able to come off an injury like that, 5½ months after surgery, nobody’s done it. So just to be able to be in that category, the first person to do that, it’s a blessing.”

Noted for their marquee reinforcements in the regular season (Von Miller, Odell Beckham Jr.), the Rams got a bonus one that few this side of the Sunset Strip anticipated. In July, Akers felt a pop in the back of his right leg while doing box jumps at an offsite training center.

Initial prognoses indicated he’d miss the entire season. Similar injuries have ended careers, most notably that of three-time Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington, who at 28 ruptured an Achilles tendon in a 2006 Monday night game and never played again.

Yet Akers was practicing before Christmas, took five handoffs in the regular-season finale against the 49ers and totaled 95 yards — including 17 carries for 55 yards — in Monday night’s 34-11 wild-card embarrassment of the Cardinals.

Now he represents another offensive component for which the Bucs must brace as Sunday’s NFC division playoff game nears.

“It is amazing,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said, himself nursing an Achilles tear that has left him hobbling the last couple of months.

“Sports science, what’s going on in the world today, people coming back from (torn) ACLs in six months and Achilles (injuries) and things that were 16 months (of recovery) two years ago, I think it’s just going to get better.”

As modern medicine goes, Akers, 22, stands as equal parts marvel and template, lending hope that future recoveries from similar injuries will be more akin to detours than odysseys.

His recovery began with a surgical technique called internal bracing, performed by Neal ElAttrache, the Rams’ team surgeon and the man who reconstructed Tom Brady’s mangled knee a decade and a half ago.

A story in the website The Athletic chronicled how, after repairing the tendon, ElAttrache added a sutured brace over the top of the repair, stabilizing it so Akers could begin rehabilitation earlier.

“Instead of having many strings trying to tie the ends of two mops together, you really stretch a suture across from the mop (handles) themselves, which really keeps things in place,” Fletcher Zumbusch, a doctor of physical therapy and rehabilitation specialist in California, told The Athletic. “And you’re not relying fully on those frayed fibers of the tendon.”

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From there, Akers’ every waking and resting moment — from steps, to sleep patterns, to even the amount of time he stood in one place — were chronicled as part of the Rams’ meticulous physical-therapy plan. A de facto training room even was set up in his house.

Within four weeks of the surgery, Akers shed his walking boot. By November, he had returned to football-specific drills.

On Monday, he brandished the speed and shiftiness that enabled him to run for 625 yards as a rookie in 2020 and total 2,875 rushing yards in three seasons at FSU.

“I already knew it. It was just about showing y’all,” Akers told reporters late Monday. “Now y’all know.”

So do the Bucs, who now must account for Akers as well as fourth-year veteran Sony Michel (845 regular-season rushing yards), not to mention a smorgasbord of passing targets, including Beckham, NFL triple-crown winner Cooper Kupp (145 catches, 1,947 yards, 16 touchdowns) and East Lake High alumnus Tyler Higbee at tight end.

“It’s unbelievable,” Rams coach Sean McVay said.

“And really, I don’t think the stats tell the story for how good (Akers) looked, leveling some runs off. He got a couple of big-time runs called back.

“I thought Cam was outstanding. He did a great job, and he’s only getting more and more confident. And what I love most about him is what a confident, secure individual he is.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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