ALLEN PARK -- Professional football player's nightmares are plagued with self-images of serious injuries that could limit or, even worse, end their careers.
Imagine how Ryan Broyles must have felt on a fateful Saturday afternoon last November. The record-setting senior at Oklahoma hauled in a pass – a routine that he had accomplished a record 348 times previously – and attempted to pick up additional yardage. As Broyles attempted to spin away from a would-be tackler, he was clipped and awkwardly fell to the ground.
It was later revealed that Broyles had torn his right ACL.
Since then, Broyles' recovery has been nothing short of amazing. From running a 4.59 40-yard dash at his Pro Day only five months after the injury to being an active member of the Lions training camp roster that began in July.
He has worked hard to recover and has been chomping at the bit to get on the field.
"I feel like I could go right now," said Broyles days before making his NFL debut in Baltimore last Friday night. "That's not my decision… I'll be ready to go when they call me."
Broyles had two catches for 26 yards against the Ravens but did so in limited action. The coaching staff employed what head coach Jim Schwartz termed a "pitch count" for his rookie receiver, ensuring he tasted his first NFL action while not being ramped up too quickly.
Even in his limited action – both in game and in practice – Broyles has made a positive impression.
"There's a reason he's the all-time leading receiver in college football, or NCAA Division I history because he just knows how to get open," said Schwartz. "They blitzed, he set his route down and did a really good job setting himself up. He's going to get faster. His physical skills are going to get sharper as he goes on but he hasn't lost anything from a mental standpoint. He was very sharp that way."
Broyles certainly brought much of the aforementioned route-running ability from college to the pros. However, this is the area where his injury may have served as a blessing in disguise.
During OTAs and minicamp, Broyles was more of a spectator than participant. However, while the other receivers were grouped together performing positional drills, he was paired with a quarterback – often starter Matthew Stafford – and ran routes under the supervision of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
Linehan would act as a defensive back, ensuring Broyles was able to tailor his route to the specific coverage he was facing, allowing him to build chemistry with his quarterback while understanding what to expect to see from those trying to stop him.
The individual time gave Broyles a unique introduction to the NFL, allowing him to slowly soak in the information while other rookie's heads were spinning.
Did Broyles find this individualized coaching helpful?
"Definitely," he said. "Getting over there one-on-one with the coach and quarterback, just understanding what they want me to do, especially just telling me this is the route we're running and I can just dissect that and not do it on the big scheme of things when they got to talk to all three receivers. It definitely helps and I get to translate that over to the field."
The very same injury that may have scared teams away from Broyles on draft day could ultimately help expedite his transition to the NFL.
Broyles not only survived this nightmare scenario, he may actually become a better professional because of it.