Two-a-day practices can be a grind, but they don't bother John McCargo.
The Buffalo Bills' second-year defensive tackle hasn't been able to do anything meaningful on a football field since a broken left foot ended his rookie season after five games. So putting up with a few double sessions in training camp is a small price to pay, as far as he's concerned.
"It feels good," McCargo said after a morning practice at St. John Fisher College. "It's been a long time since I played football. It's kind of like I'm a rookie again."
The Bills also think of him as a rookie because he played so little last season, but they don't expect him to play like one. The Bills traded up in last year's draft to select McCargo in the first round (26th overall) because they believe he can be an impact performer.
And with the possibility of Darwin Walker's holdout ending in his rights being returned to Philadelphia, McCargo's role takes on greater importance. That's why few players on either side of the ball will be under more scrutiny in this training camp than the 6-foot-2, 307-pound McCargo.
"They picked me because they wanted a defensive tackle that could penetrate, run to the ball and make plays," he said. "That's what I've got to do. I've got to go out here and prove to the Bills that I was worth the pick."
The Bills are counting on him doing just that.
"John is certainly a guy that we believed in," head coach Dick Jauron said. "We made a deal [in the draft] to get him high. We think he has a terrific future, but now we have to see it. Now it's got to start coming out. We'll watch him closely."
McCargo was showing signs of breaking through when he broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot. It was the same foot that developed a stress fracture in 2005 and sidelined him for five games during his last season at North Carolina State.
Surgery in October and a cleanup procedure last February repaired the broken foot. McCargo's only real on-field action in the offseason workouts was doing individual drills under the supervision of the Bills' training staff. Most of the offseason has been spent rehabilitating the foot.
After the final spring minicamp, he worked to get into better shape. He wasn't able to run during rehab, so he needed to trim off the extra weight gained. While McCargo's conditioning isn't where it needs to be, his work over the past three days has earned the praise of defensive line coach Bill Kollar.
"He's probably not in as good a shape as he would have been in if he was able to end up practicing in May and June, but he's a little bit farther along than I thought he might be for him really not being able to work out as much as he would have liked to because of the foot," Kollar said. "For the first time out, it was pretty encouraging what he did."
It was believed McCargo would challenge Kyle Williams for the starting nose tackle position, but so far he has worked exclusively at the "three technique" tackle (a position that lines up on the outside shoulder of the left guard). McCargo is playing behind starter Larry Tripplett, though he is getting some snaps with the first-team defense.
Kollar said McCargo will get some action at the nose this summer, but he wants McCargo to get reacclimated to playing the "three" spot, his natural position, before moving him to another spot on the line.
"We really need to get him grounded in there and get used to the reads and fits and everything," Kollar said. "Again, what he's done so far was encouraging and hopefully he will keep going from this day on."
The original plan was to limit McCargo to one practice a day during the double sessions, but he participated in each one over the past three days. While McCargo hasn't suffered any physical setbacks, the Bills are going to be careful not to overwork him.
"We'll proceed with caution and we'll just keep watching him," Jauron said. "He's been cleared for all activity. So as we move along, if we feel like we need to back off we will."
McCargo was depressed after breaking his foot. It was bad enough that he had already hurt it in college, and he didn't want to be labeled as injury prone.
Now that he's healthy, he hopes the injury problems are a thing of the past.
"I just try not to think about it because there is nothing I can do to go back and change anything," he said. "I've just got to move forward and work on what I can change now. I just want to get back into football shape, try to take a step forward every day and try to get better."