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'Gone long enough,' Devon Still returns to Bengals for minicamp

Devon Still was excited to be back at practice Tuesday after missing OTAs while dealing with his daughter Leah's medical condition. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

CINCINNATI -- Devon Still had been aching to get back in the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room.

While his teammates spent the last two months building camaraderie as they went through the team's offseason workout program, he was out East, looking after a 5-year-old whose story and strength have captivated the nation for nearly a year.

It wasn't long after Leah Still went into remission in March following a long fight with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare pediatric cancer, that she had a setback with her post-cancer treatment. The setback kept Still close to her side and forced him to miss the last three weeks of voluntary organized team activities (OTAs).

But positive news from Leah's doctors Monday gave him the comfort in knowing he could get away for a couple days this week, just in time for the start mandatory minicamp Tuesday. Relieved, he told reporters he was glad to be standing back in front of his locker.

"I've been gone for long enough," Still said. "I have a lot of family and friend support that is there with my daughter now. So it feels good to get away for a couple days and just get back to being here with the team and going out there and practicing."

For 43 days, Leah has been inside an all-too-familiar room at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. But if the trends doctors are seeing continue, she could be going home in less than a week. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis had told Still if he needed to stay in Philadelphia, he would have been excused from missing these workouts.

Although uninjured for the first time in about two years, Still was limited during Tuesday's practice with what he was permitted to do football-wise. Lewis plans to keep Still out of most team drills in this camp simply because he hasn't practiced yet. Although the Bengals are confident in his offseason regimen, they still want to put him through a few more of their conditioning exercises before clearing him for full practice activity.

"He's a guy that we support so much with all the stuff he's going through with Leah," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "You know he's not the only one going through tough stuff, either. There's been other things that have happened to guys. That's one thing that's great about this locker room. We support each other and we're there for the guys that need it."

Still has lost 18 pounds since January. His body has made a clear transformation, as evidenced by before and after photos from his Instagram page.

The 314 pounds he carried last season was mostly the product of living in airports -- he would fly back to Philadelphia late on Sundays after games last season, and then fly back to Cincinnati the following Tuesday -- and eating fast food. Able to live near his daughter, Still carved out time this offseason to better tend to his diet and work out with a personal trainer whenever possible. They didn't have a set routine because of Leah's treatments. The goal was simply to get workouts in every day, regardless of when in the 24-hour cycle they came.

"I'm in the best shape I've ever been in my football career, period -- college or pro," Still said. "I'm playing motivated now. My daughter has won the battle against cancer, and I know she wants me to go out and prove myself on the football field. So that's what I'm working towards."