EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It wasn't enough for Nick Gates to endure seven surgeries on his left leg, now he wants someone to collide with it.
Gates returned to the practice field this month after more than a year on the sidelines. Now, he just wants his leg to pass one final test.
"The second day in there, somebody kind of fell and hit my good leg," Gates said this week. "But I really wish somebody would just fall on the back of my leg to get it over with by now. I know it's fine. You can't really do anything to it again. The brace is inside my leg. It can't break unless you run a truck over it."
That's not part of the rehab, so it's up to a teammate or an opposing defensive lineman to run over his leg. The first could occur in any practice. Gates doesn't know when or if a player in a different uniform will get a crack at it.
"I'm just trying to take it day-by-day," Gates said. "I'm not trying to look that far ahead. I'm just looking to tomorrow and trying to win the day tomorrow and just give them the best opportunity to evaluate me."
Coach Brian Daboll is impressed with Gates' progress. Gates began the season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list and practiced for the first time on Oct. 5. The Giants have until next Wednesday, the 26th, to activate Gates or return him to PUP for the remainder of the season.
"(Gates is) getting closer," Daboll said. "I think he's had a good couple of weeks of practice. … I think he's made progress each and every day. Learning our system, it's different when you're practicing in a new system. You can sit in a classroom all you want, but I think he's made good progress."
Gates said he "definitely" agrees with Daboll's assessment about picking up the Giants offense.
"I think they did it the right way," Gates said. "The first week, I was kind of just taking scout team reps and got the rust off. Last week, they threw me in for a couple of plays. This week, I didn't really take a ton because of (center) Jon (Feliciano). But with him being limited (Wednesday), it was good for me to get the majority of snaps. And it makes me feel good with being back in there and the playbook. I can learn in the classroom, but I learn better on the field. And doing it and making a mistake, I know I won't make the mistake again after I made the mistake."
Because they are familiar with the ordeal he endured to return to the field, Gates' teammates have been excited by his return. Daboll wasn't here when Gates was hurt but admires his determination. He had Gates break down the team at the end of his first walk-through.
"It's great to see him back out there," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "I've played a lot of football with him and obviously have a great relationship with him. As a friend, as a teammate, it's been fun to be back out there with him. He's been through a lot. Yeah, it's been fun."
When Gates went down, he was replaced in the game by Ben Bredeson, who had been acquired in a trade with Baltimore 17 days earlier. Before the Washington game, Gates had started 17 consecutive games at center. In that role, he helped Bredeson learn the Giants' offense. Now Bredeson is the starting left guard, and he gives Gates tips on the team's new playbook.
"It has flipped the other way around," Gates said. "Last year when he came in, I was the one helping him out. But now, getting back into it, he's kind of helping me out a little bit."
Gates' saga began Sept. 16, 2021, when the Giants played a Thursday night game in Washington. He made his 19th consecutive start, which was then the Giants' longest active streak. Because Shane Lemieux had been placed on injured reserve that week, Gates made his first start at left guard.
It lasted just 12 plays. On the first play of the Giants' second possession, Gates suffered a gruesome lower left leg fracture. Play-by-play announcer Joe Buck said, "It's bad enough that we're just not going to show it to you." Gates was transported to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he learned he had fractured the fibula and tibia.
That night, he underwent his first surgery. Six more would follow. So did long, grueling hours of pain, rehabilitation, setbacks, and triumphs. He spent training camp and the season's first four weeks wearing the bright red jersey of the injured. On Oct. 5, 384 days after he was carted off the field, he participated in practice.
"I knew the first day I went out there I could play football again," Gates said. "That was like my thing. I just wasn't sure. I hadn't played football in 55 weeks or 54 weeks. It was weird for me, but after I nailed that practice, I was like, 'I can definitely do this again.'"
But will it be this year? Daboll has been consistently non-committal about whether Gates will join the active roster. Feliciano has been limited in practice but is expected to play when the Giants face the Jaguars Sunday in Jacksonville.
"I definitely feel like I have what it takes to play again," Gates said. "I try not to think about that. I'm just trying to put my best foot forward and give them the best film to evaluate me on. So, what they do with that is what they do with that. It's not on me anymore. So, I'm only going to control what I can control, and that's going out there every day and putting my best foot forward.
"I don't know what they're thinking or what's going on in their head. I feel like if I was out there this week or next week, I'd be able to hold my own. I'm just worried about what I can do to help the team – that's my biggest thing."
View rare photos of the all-time history between the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars.