After being sidelined with a groin tear in the season opener against Cleveland, cornerback Dimitri Patterson has finally shown signs of improvement by returning to practice this week, albeit to a limited extent.
The week’s final injury report lists Patterson as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills.
Defensive end Cameron Wake (knee) is listed as probable for Sunday and fully participated in Friday’s practice. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (shoulder) did not participate in practice all week and is listed as doubtful. Receiver Brandon Gibson (hip) was added to the injury report Friday and is questionable.
With Wake likely to play and Ellerbe likely out, Patterson is the biggest unknown heading into the division opener.
“I’ll know on Sunday,” Patterson said. “It’s feeling as good as it can feel, just coming back [to practice]. It’s the best I’ve felt.”
The ninth-year cornerback was limited in practice leading up to Miami’s second game this season against Indianapolis but didn’t play. His status then worsened, and he had been held out of practice until this week. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin described Patterson’s recovery as “gradual.”
According to Patterson, there is now little concern that he could reaggravate or worsen the groin tear, and his status will be decided before Sunday’s game, depending on how well he can manage pain and move fluidly despite it.
“I’m looking for that violent explosion without major pain — that cutting, sharp pain,” Patterson said. “When you go out there and work out, that’s what you want to look for: to see if you can move in a violent, explosive manner consistently and not experience that sharp pain in there.”
Patterson said that the injury has been frustrating because it’s left him in limbo for more than a month. He said that unlike certain simple injuries like broken bones, nothing is black and white about a muscle tear.
“A lot of it has to do with the world that you live in,” Patterson said. “The world that I live in is a pretty violent world for the muscles because of all twisting and turning, the agility, explosiveness and the stopping and starting.”
He also indicated that his injury is a particularly difficult one given his position. As a cornerback, Patterson lines up against some of the fastest and most agile players in the league, and those receivers have the added benefit of knowing exactly when and where they’ll be cutting on the field.
“There’s a lot of reacting — when you have these muscles tears or tissue tears, it’s harder when you’re not doing premeditated moves,” Patterson said. “You don’t know when you’re going to make that violent movement — you may have an idea but you don’t know. It’s more stress on the muscles, which makes coming back from those muscle tears even more difficult.”
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Patterson’s injury saga was how well he played in his only game this season. In the first half against Cleveland, Patterson intercepted two passes and broke up another. One of the best games of the veteran’s career was cut short, making the injury hard to swallow.
“Everybody has a vision of how they want their season to go, and sometimes that vision doesn’t come into life,” Patterson said. “… You always know that it could be worse, and that’s just the process I’ve kept throughout this whole process.”
But a month in limbo has taken its emotional toll.
Patterson admitted that it can be maddening at times to watch from the sidelines. After Dolphins victories, he has wished he could be a part of them. After losses, he has wished he could have helped. While the day-to-day has been taxing, Patterson is optimistic it’s all been worth it so that he can emerge healthy and every bit as good as he was in the season opener.
“Really, it’s just a constant process of talking to yourself, saying you’ve got to be patient,” Patterson said. “You’ve got to just constantly remind yourself to listen to your body and just keep more of a big-picture frame of mind to be smart about this.”