One of the reasons reporters wanted the offensive line to start talking is because we knew how engaging some of those player were, and believed that having some of those voices heard would help to bring more perspective to what’s happening with that group.
Offensive lineman Chester Pitts is a prime example of that belief. I had talked to him briefly about his return to the field after Sunday’s game, but Pitts went into greater detail about his injury and the effort it took to return to the field, and how he’s grateful to have the opportunity to play again.
Pitts was thoughtful, humble and engaging while talking to reporters after practice on Wednesday, so I felt compelled to provide the full transcript of that conversation so you check it out in his own words.
Q: How good was that just getting back on the field after being out for so long?
Pitts: “It was a very, very long road. Almost 14 months when I went down last year up in Tennessee in Week 2. Obviously I would love the situation to come out better, and come out with a victory in the game. But just to be able to get out there, perform and play again.
“I had 10 doctors tell me I would never play again, and I had doctor believe that I could come back”Q: So you listened to that one?
Pitts: “He fixed my knee. It’s amazing. I went out there and played. I didn’t play the whole game. I think played the first play into the second quarter, so three full quarters of football, and I’m able to come out and be ready to go Wednesday. So for me it’s very positive, very uplifting. All the hard work was absolutely worth it..”
Q: How did you feel the day after?
Pitts: “I’m still sore. I hadn’t really hit anybody in 14 months, and that’s a long time. So my neck, right in here (pointing to his neck), Oh God. But my knee was pretty good. It was no more sore than the other knee or any other joint. So that was very positive. Just honestly, it’s a blessing to be where I am, to travel the road I traveled and just be where I am now.
Q: How much did it help your confidence to get through the three quarters and know your knee was going to hold up?
Pitts: “I didn’t know. Nobody knew. I didn’t know until really I actually got to play. I got to go out there and hit somebody. The first play didn’t look very good, but kind of as I got back into the game and playing football, I kind of remembered what it was like to be a football player again. And I just kind of kept trying to build on it and get my techniques right. I got another chance this week.”
Q: How long did it take for you to get to that point where you thinking and you were just able to do it?
Pitts: “I would say the first drive I was out there was maybe five or six plays, so I would say by the end of that drive I had calmed down, and my heart rate had came back down to where it’s supposed to be. And I was like, ‘Ok, I’m good.’ And I was ready to play “
Q: What percentage physically do you think your knee is?
Pitts: “I would probably say I’m at 90 percent. It’s there. Inside the knee it’s fine. I still have some strength deficiencies, and they say that could take up to two, full years to get it all back. I went 62 days without being able to use my leg at all. I mean my foot didn’t touch the ground for that long because I was on crutches. So my leg shriveled up and atrophied, I mean I could grab my femur. That’s how mushy it was in there.”
Q: So that’s strength. What about agility and quickness? Do you notice anything there?
Pitts: “I would say my ability is still the same. It’s just when it comes to really sharp movements sometimes – there’s just little things, so you can’t pinpoint it. It’s just one of those things where when you call upon it, it better work. Stick it in the ground and let’s go. But I’m steadily getting better and I’ll be fine. I’m not worried one bit anymore.”
Q: When was the last time you played left tackle?
Pitts: 2005. I think they moved me back four games in (when he was with the Houston Texans). So I played the last 12 games of 2005 at left tackle. So when I went out there in the Raiders game that was the first time in a long time for a lot of things.
Q: Are you preparing right now as if you’re going to play left tackle this week?
Pitts: “Well, I mean I am. I don’t know just yet. It just depends on how Russell recovers. But I mean if my number’s called I’ll be ready to go. And if not, I’ll move back inside and play left guard. But right now, because he couldn’t go today, I prepared today like I’m going to play left tackle.”
Q: That’s a heck of a front you’ll be seeing from either position?
Pitts: Oh my goodness gracious. We saw a really good group last week. But I would say the strength of the Raiders was inside. But I would say this group (Giants), it’s strong everywhere. These guys are really good. We’re going to have our work cut out for us. I’m glad it’s at Qwest, because they’re wonderful fans and the 12th Man really supports us. That’s really going to help. But we’ve got to go out there and do our jobs.
Q: What was the knee injury?
Pitts: “I did a lot man. I tore my MCL off the bone. I had what they call ‘kissing lesions.’ Basically, the bottom of my femur and the top of my tibia plateaued. Those bones, basically when my knee rolled those edges crushed each other, and you can say they kind of exploded. I tore my meniscus in half. I had a small little fracture – they call it a rim fracture of the tibial plateau.
“So it was a doozy. What it was, was I was stealing. I was cheating. I had gone too long without missing a game, so God said we’re going to get it back right. But it’s a tough, physical game. And it’s one of those things where if you believe, and if you find a way to dig down, come back and get it done. Granted, they say you’ll never be as good as you were, but I feel like if I just keep working I will get there. It hasn’t hurt in two or three months. I haven’t had any real pain, so for me it’s just continuing to get stronger and get better in my technique and play ball again.”
Q: So what’s been the motivating factor in dealing with all that you’ve been through?
Pitts: "I was raised to always put my family first. And just everything that I put myself through, I know it’s for a greater cause. And the way I look at it, the more I put myself through and the longer I play football, the more opportunities I can create and set up for my kids and my family. And my thing is, only one Pitts is going to have to play football. If my son wants to play, then I’ll let him play when he’s older. But he’s going to have every opportunity to live a wonderful and successful life without having to hit anybody. It could always be worse. It could always be harder, it could always be worse, so just go out there and focus on what you can control on that day and get better.”
Q: A guy like Fred Robbins for the Rams come back from microfracture at age 33 and plays at a high level, do you keep track of other success stories to keep yourself inspired?
Pitts: “You would not believe how many times I’ve googled the word microfracture, or I’ve binged the word microfracture, or ‘successful microfracture surgeries.’ And ‘How do you recover.’ Oh my goodness, I’ve read about it all. And that’s a real positive thing. And that’s the thing, football is tough because no matter when you get hurt, you’ve got to be ready next year for camp. And a lot of times you have injuries that are 12-month injuries or 14-month injuries, and it’s really tough because you end up going back out before you’re ready, before you have the strength to not mess it up again. And if you can get that time, then you’ll be fine. But if not, then you come back too early. That’s why a lot of microfractures are not successful because people come back too soon. If you get the time and can get the strength to where your knee is strong again, then you don’t beat up the joint anymore and you’re fine.
Q: So that’s kind of what happened with you?
Pitts: “That’s exactly what happened to me. Coach Carroll and Schneider took great care of me. That’s why I’m able to go out there and play, and then go right back at it the next week and I’m not out there gimping around, because they let me get strong enough.”