ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Every once in a while, someone Ryan Broyles doesn’t know will approach him with a succinct question: When are you going to retire?
He understands the theory behind the question, but the Detroit Lions wide receiver rejects the idea or mention of it.
He has ended his past three seasons the same way -- with a season-ending injury to his lower body, any of which could have destroyed the power and explosiveness he would need in his legs to run routes, catch passes and separate from cornerbacks and safeties.
So he is used to hearing the question. He is also used to giving the same answer -- not any time soon at least, of his own volition.
“They asked me that from the first ACL at Oklahoma,” Broyles said. “All I can do is work. You know what I mean. I can only play this game for so long. I’m 26, hopeful to play into my 30s, so I’m going to do everything right as much as possible.”
Doing everything right led Broyles to pleasant surprises during this round of rehabilitation. When he ruptured his Achilles against Dallas on Oct. 27, 2013, he anticipated another prolonged process. His hope was to return to the Lions for the start of training camp, where he would try to make his third season in the NFL his first healthy one.
Rehab has become an offseason routine for Broyles, and each time he has gone through it, he has vowed to come back healthier and stronger than he was the time before. He rehabilitated his Achilles this offseason at EXOS in Frisco, Texas, two workouts a day to try to realize his eventual return before the season: Therapy and conditioning in the morning, and weightlifting in the afternoon.
He worked on the placement of his feet, knees and hips, learning and rediscovering movements and proper form so he could eliminate chances for injuries that have happened in the past. This was something he didn’t do at the start of his college career, but when injuries came, he began to pay attention to it.
Broyles understands where he has been when it comes to rehabilitation. So far, the Achilles rehab has been easier than coming back from his two ACL tears. Each new activity still brings some new pain as he has to remember how to do some things that once came natural.
Starting to do calf raises during rehab hurt at first before the pain eventually subsided. The varying steps he went through have all built toward his eventual return, to the point he is now running routes at full speed. Initially, he wasn’t sure when that would happen.
Going full speed full-time? He hasn’t felt like that in a while.
“My rookie year here, when I had a couple good games toward the end of the season, that’s when I really felt good,” Broyles said. “I felt confident. Felt explosive. Hit that wall, got hurt and then cycled again.”
Broyles is referring to his best game as a pro, the one that leads to the questions about what he could become this season if he can stay healthy for the first time. In Week 12 of his rookie year, he caught six passes for 126 yards against Houston on Thanksgiving. The next week, he caught one pass for three yards in the first quarter against Indianapolis, tore his right ACL and then started the rehabilitation process all over again. It was a process he began during his final year at Oklahoma, when he tore his left ACL.
Then came last season, a brief return to the field and the Achilles injury that sent him back to physical rehabilitation and another offseason of questions and wondering when -- or if -- he would ever be worthy of the second-round pick the Lions used to get him in 2012.
So, receiving any positive offseason news is uplifting for Broyles, who kept a determined outlook despite injury after injury. His situation might have brought negativity to most. Broyles just kept working and learned that being healthy for training camp wouldn’t be an issue. He would be at full speed well before camp, even if he didn’t believe that at first. Even now, he said he’s “surprising myself” every day in Allen Park, Michigan, during Detroit’s organized team activities.
“That wasn’t in my playbook, to be honest. I don’t think it was in any of y'all's playbook,” Broyles said. “It was just get healthy and going day-by-day. I’m out here, feeling good and feeling healthy, finally.
“That’s all I can really ask for.”