Cam Akers knew right away what was wrong. What he didn’t know, and what hurt worse, was what it could mean for his football future.
Akers was doing a pre-training-camp workout he described as “knee-ups” near the Rams’ practice facility in Thousand Oaks last July when he felt a pop in one heel. He glanced behind him to see if somebody had hit him. But there was nobody within 15 yards.
The Rams’ leading rusher as a rookie in 2020 had torn his right Achilles’ tendon.
“I called my mom. I cried,” Akers said Thursday in a Zoom call with reporters, speaking publicly about his injury and comeback for the first time and describing his reactions.
“And then, two days later, all of my emotions were geared to ‘What am I going to do to get back?’ The fear of not coming back (as) the same me was all the motivation I needed.”
Less than six months after surgeon Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic repaired the damage, Akers took the first official strides in his comeback when he came off the bench Sunday to carry the ball five times (for 3 yards) and catch three passes (for 10) in the Rams’ 27-24, overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Saying he wasn’t sore after the limited action, Akers said he’s ready to take more of the load from Sony Michel in the Rams’ playoff opener against the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night at SoFi Stadium.
What remains to be seen is how soon he’ll be the same Cam Akers who ran for 131 yards, a playoff record for a Rams rookie, in their first-round victory over the Seattle Seahawks last January.
“(We’re) looking for more of him as he continues to get healthy,” Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said.
Akers shared credit for his quick return with others
Rams director of rehabilitation Byron Cunningham and Reggie Scott’s training staff “did an amazing job mapping out a plan and making sure I followed it to a T.”
The native of Clinton, Mississippi, who starred at Florida State, kept his injury in perspective by remembering “some of the stuff that I’ve seen some of my family and people go through.”
“I prayed. That’s probably the most important,” Akers said.
But the comeback in time for the playoffs wouldn’t have happened without an all-out effort by Akers, who set up a workout room so he could pile up rehab reps at home.
“When he was going through rehab, we could see him (working out) on the sideline, and you could see his movement and his quickness,” Rams linebacker Von Miller said. “I thought ‘He’ll be ready’ for at least a month and a half now.
“It’s right on time, (going into) the playoffs. Sony’s been playing well. Cam Akers is back. It should be able to pay off for us.”
More production from Akers will require a better all-around ground game than the Rams had against San Francisco, which held them to a season-worst 2.4 yards per carry.
“You were heartbroken for the guy at the beginning of the season. But you know he’s worked his butt off to get back and healthy and looking good,” right tackle Rob Havenstein said. “Obviously we’ve got to do better up front, giving him clean holes and everything like that.”
Akers said he’s driven to be “better than I was before I got hurt.”
It was widely assumed the injury would cost him the entire 2021 season.
But waiting for next season, after an injury that can take up to a year of recovery for a football player, didn’t seem to be acceptable for Akers as the Rams steamed toward the playoffs.
“I want to win a Super Bowl. That’s why we play the game,” Akers said. “If I’m able to come back and contribute and help us win, frankly, why wouldn’t I?”
He said he feels 100%.
“But me saying that probably don’t make you believe it,” Akers said. “I’d rather just go play ball and show people.”
WEDDLE SET TO PLAY
Eric Weddle, coming out of a two-year retirement to help the Rams’ depleted safety corps, said he feels capable because has worked out as if he were still playing and has watched every snap of the Rams’ games on TV this season.
Like Akers, Weddle said his comeback is motivated by a shot at a Super Bowl.
“Whether I’m crazy or not, that’s for everybody else to decide,” Weddle, 37, said during a 45-minute Zoom chat with reporters after taking part in a walk-through practice. “That’s how much I cherish and believe and want a chance at the Super Bowl.
“That’s why I played. Now you’re saying now I get a chance, that I can actually go help and do this? Sign me up!”
The Alta Loma High (Rancho Cucamonga) product never got to a Super Bowl in nine seasons with the Chargers, three with the Ravens and one with the Rams.
McVay, who said the Rams contacted Weddle with the offer to return, said the two-time All-Pro’s role on the field against the Cardinals is to be determined.
The Rams are down one and maybe two safeties. Jordan Fuller (ankle) went on injured reserve on Wednesday, and Taylor Rapp is in the NFL’s concussion protocols and sat out practice Thursday.
Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (back) missed practice. But cornerback Darious Williams (shoulder) was a full participant, as were quarterback Matthew Stafford (toe) and wide receiver Van Jefferson (shoulder).
“I think I should be feeling really good on Monday,” Stafford said. “I’d show it to you, but I don’t want to do that. That’s for other guys to do. I’ll keep my toes to myself.”
In the Green Bay cold, Aaron Rodgers’ ears were burning.
The Cardinals’ injury report showed their leading rusher, James Conner (ribs), missing practice and backup Chase Edmonds (ribs and toe) as a limited participant. The two combined for 170 yards on the ground in the Cardinals’ 37-20 victory over the Rams in October. Conner was held to 31 yards rushing but had 94 receiving when Edmonds missed the Rams’ 30-23 win at Arizona in December.