For the past couple of months James Hardy has been pushing his surgically repaired knee to the limit. Every day he has been doing everything he can to meet his personal goal of being ready to play in the Bills preseason finale.
But with the last preseason game happening on Thursday evening Hardy has yet to be taken off the active PUP list. And now he's up against another deadline, the formation of the 53-man roster by Saturday at 4pm.
"I've just been listening to the trainers," Hardy told Buffalobills.com. "They want to get a lot of consistency from me in order for me to practice with the team. They want it to be three or four days in a row without any soreness at all the next day and I haven't been able to take it to that point yet."
Seven and a half months removed from surgery Hardy is in that six to nine month window of recovery where some knees simply recover faster than others. And at this point his knee does not have the stamina to get through practice day in and day out through the course of a game week.
"It's just the consistency where I have to perform and practice at the speed and caliber that they do," said Hardy of his teammates. "I have to show I can do it for a long period of time instead of 20 to 25 minutes like I've been doing after practice."
By no means is the coaching staff disappointed with Hardy's efforts. The receiver has been supremely determined to come back in time for the start of the season since his surgery Jan. 15. In fact head coach Dick Jauron believes there's still a chance Hardy could contribute to the team sooner rather than later.
"He is coming along and if you talk to anybody in our organization about him I think they would agree that he's really done a terrific job of rehabbing and he's really doing well in his workouts after practice and obviously in his rehab," said Jauron. "He's bigger, he's stronger and he's moving well. I do believe there is a chance of him helping us in the first half of the season."
But at the receiver position there's also a surplus of talent so there's a strong likelihood that the coaching staff could decide that it's best to give Hardy extra time to get his knee in top form by placing him on Reserve/PUP.
When a player with less than four years of NFL experience is placed on Reserve/PUP at the start of the regular season he cannot practice with the team until after the conclusion of Week 6. Anytime between the end of Week 6 and the end of Week 9 the team could begin a 21-day period where the Reserve/PUP player could practice with the team.
At the conclusion of that span of practice time the club then must make a decision whether to put the player on the active roster or on season-ending injured reserve.
Hardy is aware that his plans to be on the active roster for Week 1 of the regular season could be compromised, and he's torn about what he wants to do and what might be best for his long term future.
"Now we've got T.O. here and I want to go out there and practice and put everything that he's shown me in the film room onto the field," said Hardy. "That's the most important factor that's making me say, 'Forget waiting anymore. Just go out there and do it.' But I've just got to be patient and I've been talking to the guys that have been through it before and all they keep saying is, 'You'll know when it's time. You'll know.'"
So what is Hardy's head telling him right now?
"My head is telling me that I'm able to go right now," Hardy said. "It's just what is the best decision to make? I feel like I can go out and contribute. I don't feel like I would hurt them. I just want to do the right thing for myself for the long term instead of just trying to push it to come back now and possibly do something wrong in the first six weeks and I'm pushed back even more."
What Hardy is trying to come to grips with is the rewards of all the hard work he has put in this offseason may not be realized until midseason.
"I'm still going like I'm trying to go out there," said Hardy of his approach. "Mentally that's what I'm waking up thinking every day. So hopefully I'll be able to be out there. But just in case I know in the back of my mind what could happen. I've prepared myself to look at it as a positive thing if I am placed on Reserve/PUP because if I don't do that then I'll get frustrated and then the seven and a half months where I've been so patient sort of goes out the window. If it happens I'll make peace with it."