IRVING, Texas – Danny Coale refers to last season as "a learning year."
That's a positive outlook on what could be considered a redshirt season for the 2012 fifth-round pick, who was limited by multiple injuries.
"I didn't have any injuries at Virginia Tech, and I think the most frustrating part is it's just you've never been that guy that's been hurt constantly," Coale said. "I've never been that person, and to have a year like this, it was tough. It teaches you a lot about yourself and slows you down a little bit and causes you to appreciate things a little more."
Coale was set to compete for the third wide receiver spot behind Dez Bryant and Miles Austin before breaking a bone in his left foot in May 2012 during Organized Team Activities. He came back and experienced hamstring and quad problems during training camp. The worst injury came later in the year, when he tore the ACL in his left knee, requiring surgery in December 2012 to shut his season down.
The former Virginia Tech receiver is now five months into his rehab. He's jogging on an anti-gravity treadmill and is practicing as much as possible. Coale said he can do much pretty everything he wants to at this point, including running routes, and he can feel his knee getting better every week.
"There's more strength to gain in the quad and hamstring and glute, and that'll come," he said. "I just started doing single leg lifting probably about 10 days ago."
Coale will continue to add on to his workload as the weeks and months progress. He said he's running almost full speed without a brace or sleeve, and he plans on going out with the team during OTAs, though he doesn't know how much he'll participate.
It's a tough recovery process after an ACL injury, so setting a target date can be dangerous, but he's always looked at training camp as a goal to be ready to fully participate.
"I think at this point, being able to do routes with the guys in teaching sessions and things like that has been really good," Coale said. "Pretty positive. Maybe a little better than we would have thought at this point."
He said he worries a bit about the conditioning, particularly after doing most of his rehab on a table for two or three months. But he's tried to be diligent about his diet to stay underweight, so that way when he's ready to return he's not putting more stress on his knee.
Coale didn't get many physical reps last year, but he did get a year to understand the offense. The Cowboys are approaching the same part of the season that Coale's injuries started at last season.
This year, finding a spot as the third receiver will be more difficult. Dallas added former Baylor receiver Terrance Williams in the draft, and both Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley got game reps and targets during the season.
But Coale can't worry about the competition at this point.
"Right now what I've been focused on is just what I can control, my rehab," he said. "Does that get better every day, does it get better every week, and it has to this point. If I can continue to focus on that, the receiver stuff, we'll worry about that at a later point. First thing I need to focus on is getting this right."