FRISCO, Texas – By any standard imaginable, James Hanna has been waiting a long time to get back onto the field.
That wait isn't quite over, as Hanna isn't expected to take part in the Cowboys' OTAs this spring. But for the first time in roughly a year, the veteran tight end can see that a return is on the horizon.
"I'm on schedule," Hanna said last week. "I'm not coming back until training camp regardless, but I feel good. I've been increasing gradually ever since I started rehabbing after this last surgery. I'm coming along."
Hanna is still rehabbing the knee injury that plagued him all of last year, as he has been a constant in conditioning while the Cowboys go through their offseason program. With two months still to go before training camp, Hanna said he's happy with his progress – though there is still work to do.
"I haven't tried to push myself to full speed. But I've been running hard, so I'm definitely not taking it easy at this point," he said. "I feel like I'm going to be fine for training camp. I should just be like normal."
Normalcy would be a welcome development for Hanna, given his injuries over the past year. It's hard to believe now, but it was just last March when he signed a three-year, $8.25 million contract to remain with the Cowboys.
In the time since, Hanna was plagued by a bone bruise that held him out of OTAs last year. He was placed on the physically unable to perform list at the outset of training camp, and when the problem persisted, he underwent surgery in August. That eventually led to a second surgery in November.
"It's been a challenging injury for him," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "He's made a lot of strides back. He's looking more and more like himself. His rehab has gone really well."
To that end, Hanna said he doesn't foresee any more problems as he continues to work his way back to full speed.
"According to the doctors, my problem should be fixed and now I've just got to get my strength back and get used to everything again," Hanna said.
The Cowboys could certainly use the help when Hanna is ready to return to action. Geoff Swaim is also sitting out of OTAs after he broke a bone in his foot during offseason training, though he is expected back for training camp. With Swaim and Hanna both sitting out, the Cowboys are working with Rico Gathers and a pair of rookies behind Jason Witten.
That should provide plenty of opportunity for Hanna when he does get back into the swing of things. As frustrating as the past year might have been, that's plenty of reason for optimism heading into the summer.
"Obviously it was hard at the time, but that's behind me," he said. "Everything is going as good as I could have hoped it could go, considering all that happened."