IRVING, Texas – The open portion of Tuesday morning's practice saw Amobi Okoye go through what is by now a familiar routine – working on conditioning with Cowboys trainers.
The end of practice saw Okoye undergo some promising new work, though, as he said he was able to work with offensive linemen in getting a small amount of contact.
"It's just a privilege getting out there, and getting back in the swing of things is a good feeling," Okoye said.
Limited contact may not sound like much for a defensive lineman, but it's pretty remarkable for someone who was placed in a medically-induced coma just more than a year ago. Last year Okoye was diagnosed with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a potentially fatal brain disease.
"You've got to be cautious with things, because obviously you're dealing with the brain," Okoye said. "We'll take things slowly and progressively get better."
Okoye was placed in the coma for three months in the spring of 2013, and he has gradually been working his way back from the illness. The Cowboys signed him the week after the 2014 NFL Draft, on May 16, and he was not cleared to practice until last week. Though he is cleared to practice, he will remain on the non-football injury [embedded_ad]
list for the time being.
"There's no timetable really," he said. "It's just seeing how things progress on a daily basis."
Fellow defensive tackle Henry Melton played with Okoye in Chicago in 2011 and 2012. Having forged a friendship with Okoye, Melton said it was stunning to hear about the developments with his health when his friend dropped off the map.
"I was actually texting his phone for a while. I thought we weren't friends anymore, because he didn't respond," Melton said. "I guess someone ended up telling me, and I was like, 'Wait, what?' Soon after he was out and started texting me back. We were just talking to see what was really going on."
While he works his way back, Okoye said he'll be in constant communication with the team of doctors in Boston that cleared him to return, as well as the Cowboys' medical team at Valley Ranch. The 27-year old is the first football player to attempt to return from the illness.
"It's really nothing like a sprained ankle or a knee or whatever -- just dealing with the brain -- so it's very new," Okoye said. "It's just one of those things we've got to access."