GREEN BAY, Wis. — Andrew Quarless isn’t sure whose ACL he now has in his body, but the Green Bay Packers’ 23-year-old tight end would like to find out. After all, seven months after Quarless required surgery to repair the serious right knee injury he suffered last season, he’s feeling good and is nearing a return to football.
“We took (the ACL) from another person, which is crazy,” Quarless said. “It’s my first time in surgery ever. The cadaver, I really kind of want to know who it is.”
As is relatively customary, players who need ACL reconstruction are given donor tissue from a cadaver for the surgery.
Whoever’s ACL it was, it’s helped Quarless get on the early side of returning in the 8-to-12 month recovery window that he was told to expect. Quarless has been running for more than a month and a few weeks ago began doing sharp-cut done drills.
Though Quarless has yet to pass his physical and hasn’t played since Dec. 4, 2011 when he suffered the gruesome injury on special teams, he’s optimistic about being ready at the start of the regular season in less than one month.
“Outlook for this season, I’m shooting for Game 1,” Quarless said Saturday. “I’m definitely shooting for Game 1. Speaking to the doc and the trainers, that’s the only thing you can do is shoot for Game 1. It’s feeling better, I’m definitely staying encouraging, staying motivated and keeping the faith.
“I feel like I’ll be ready to go at 90 percent. Everybody’s playing out here a little nicked up so there’s no reason why I can’t. As long as I can get to 90 percent, I’ll feel ready to compete again.”
It’s understandable why Quarless, a fifth round pick of Green Bay’s in 2010, would want to be optimistic, but according to him, the reports that he’s getting from the Packers medical staff have also been very positive.
“I definitely think it’s realistic that I’ll be ready for Week 1,” Quarless said. “I definitely think it’s possible. My leg is feeling real good, (but) it’s a whole spectrum of mental, physical, everything that goes around the game. I’m really just listening to the trainers and the doctors and just trying to do this thing the right way.
“One of the things the doc told me when we first started a couple months ago after my surgery, he said, ‘Do you want to come back for two years or 10 years? ‘That was easy enough for me to answer. I said, ‘Sh**, 15, I want to come back for 15 years.’ So we’re taking our time with it. We don’t have to rush back out there.”
Quarless compared his recovery to that of Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson, who had a similar knee injury late last season. As Quarless observed the media coverage around Peterson’s progress, he began to wonder why the Vikings were pushing their best offensive player so hard early on.
“He had surgery around the same time, and sh**, he was running … I’m not saying they were doing it the wrong way, it’s nothing against them, he probably had great trainers, but I really feel like just taking a little more time, letting that graft strengthen up before I really push it, that’s the approach we took,” Quarless said. “We stayed off of it for about a month or two, three months after surgery just doing little stuff, but we were just letting it build up because it’s a foreign object in my body, you’ve just got to let it build up and strengthen up.
“That was the approach we took: Take our time with it and do it right.”
Now, Quarless is trying to regain the trust in his knee, that when he cuts it won’t result in a re-aggravation of his surgically repaired ACL.
“That’s what it is, that trust, that confidence in the knee,” Quarless said. “Doc did a great job, the knee feels good. Every week is a little bit better than the last so I’m taking it like that.
“It’s building back up. It’s starting to feel like a knee again. I joke around with the trainers, I say when this thing happened, I didn’t feel like I had a knee. I felt like I had one knee. That’s the truth.”
Once Quarless is medically cleared, he doesn’t think it will take many practices before he’ll be ready for game action.
“I’ve been playing football my whole life so it’s not something I’m too worried about,” Quarless said. “But you definitely have to get back into football shape, back into the speed of things. We’ll see how long that takes.”
Quarless had a very solid rookie season in 2010 when he took over for Jermichael Finley at tight end, who was lost in Week 5 with a season-ending injury. Quarless finished with 21 receptions for 238 yards and one touchdown. Last season, with Finley back, Quarless did not play as often and only had three catches for 36 yards before tearing his ACL in Week 13.
A former Penn State player who was coached by Joe Paterno from 2006 to 2009, Quarless had not previously been available to the media since the sanctions on his alma mater were announced and since the death of his former coach.
“Overall, it’s a sad story,” Quarless said. “Just to see this thing go the way it did and for (Paterno) to be deceased and not able to defend himself, it’s tough. When I look at the whole spectrum of things, it’s never good to put anybody, because there’s only one God, I’m not saying he was a God out there but it put him on a high pedestal where it’s like you can’t do no wrong.
“I don’t think you should put anybody above football, above who they really are, so that was one of the things that I took out of it. Because they really put him on a big pedestal there, it was like he couldn’t do no wrong.”
Quarless, who won 40 games during his four years at Penn State, also reacted to the program having to vacate every victory from 1998 to 2011 as punishment in the coverup of Sandusky’s crimes.
“They said every win that I had didn’t exist,” Quarless said.
After expressing sympathy for the victims in the Jerry Sandusky case, Quarless attempted to discuss the topic while still showing some respect to a deceased man who had given him a scholarship and a second chance after several suspensions from the team.
“I feel like (Paterno) could have done more (to help the victims), but it’s hard when he’s not alive anymore. It’s hard when he’s not alive to really try to talk bad about him. I definitely feels there’s more that could have been done as a whole.”