Things were breaking around Rhett Ellison.
First, it was the patellar tendon in his right knee during the Vikings’ Jan. 3 division-clinching win at Green Bay. Then a week later, in the team’s first-round playoff game, it was the ceremonial horn in frigid temperatures before Ellison got a chance to be honored.
“I think it broke, the original one,” Ellison said. “But yeah, I got to blow the gjallarhorn.”
Ellison, 27, is now putting the pieces back together of his NFL career after passing his physical and returning to practice this week. He’s unsure if he’ll be able to play in Sunday’s preseason game at U.S. Bank Stadium, though his return to the practice field is a major first step. Prior to the injury, Ellison had developed into one of the Vikings’ key blocking specialists in front of both Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater.
Ellison spoke candidly about one of the toughest challenges of his career. It all started when he took a low hit against the Packers, emerging with his knee cap “floating around” and unable to straighten his right leg.
“For every 10 ACLs, there’s one patellar tendon [injury,]” Ellison said. “It’s the rare one, and it’s a lot more difficult to get back to normal just because the tendon is such a thick thing that needs to be pliable, as opposed to the ligaments that just need to be stiff. It was just terrible timing. We were one game away from getting to the play in the playoffs with the guys, and it was definitely a hard time – probably the hardest time in my career so far.
“Early on, you go through some dark days. … Your mind has never had to handle something like that, so it reverts back to the old way of how I used to think. ‘Because I can’t do this, then I’m that.’ It’s just black and white. So it wasn’t until I had to change the way I looked at things that kind of got me out of that depression.”
There’s no guarantee in the NFL of a full recovery from the severe knee injury such as a torn patellar tendon. That’s why the Vikings used a sixth-round pick this spring on David Morgan, billed by the team as one of the draft’s top blocking prospects. Such tendon tears to each knee of former Vikings receiver Greg Childs, also a fourth-round pick in 2012 with Ellison, ended his NFL career before it even started.
The operation and immediate recovery were the worst parts, Ellison said.
“I was in pain for the first two, three weeks after surgery,” Ellison said. “I couldn’t sleep, just pain 24 hours a day. It was just not a fun time.”
He questioned whether or not he’d make a full recovery, crediting his wife with being a pillar of support. They wed during Ellison’s rehab this offseason.
“I mean, if I didn’t have my wife, I think there’s no way I’d be back, ever,” Ellison said. “She got me closer to my faith, and she’s been my rock throughout this whole process. She had to drive me everywhere, I mean, I was pretty much completely dependent on her for three months. And she just, yeah, she’s been my rock.”