Kaleb McGary returned to action following his cardiac ablation procedure, and there's a chance he could make the first game appearance of his NFL career on Thursday night in the Falcons' final preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 31st-overall pick in this year's draft, McGary was competing for the Falcons' starting right tackle spot during training camp prior to undergoing the procedure. He was cleared to begin his return to practice last week and fully cleared on Sunday. In his first full practice session, coach Dan Quinn said they saw what they wanted to see from McGary and that the rookie could be in line to play on Thursday if he continues to show positive signs, although a final decision on that hasn't yet been made.
"He definitely hit all of the markers yesterday to push to that space," Quinn said when asked if he expected McGary to play against Jacksonville. "We'll leave that up to the medical staff. Part of getting ready to play is participating fully in practice and having the confidence to do that. We'll take him all the way through today and tomorrow, but as far as the first day goes, he definitely hit all of the markers that we were hoping to hit. He looked good and felt [like] himself out there, so that was important."
What the recovery process is for McGary may seem a bit unclear, given the exact nature of the injury. That's because the word "recovery" is a bit misleading to begin with.
As McGary continues to work his way back from the procedure, there's not really much to recover from after the initial post-surgery healing. Instead, McGary and the Falcons are simply monitoring certain checkpoints, so the "hit all of the markers" description Quinn used is really the best way to look at the situation.
"Kind of the weird thing about this stuff is, unlike a legitimate injury, there's not a lot you can do necessarily to recover or prevent [a recurrence]," McGary explained after practice. "It's really just about keeping an eye on it. I did a very serious stress test to measure my cardiac output, or something like that, CO2 levels and oxygen intake and all of that. I was told the numbers look good."
The 6-foot-6, 306-pound rookie was primarily working with the second-team offense throughout training camp, but Quinn expected an even battle had McGary been available during the preseason. Since McGary's procedure, the Falcons have played both Ty Sambrailo and Matt Gono with the starters in the preseason.
It remains to be seen how quickly McGary will thrust himself into the mix to be a starter, especially considering where Quinn said he was following training camp.
"We thought at that space and time, 'OK, these are going to be 50-50 reps with the first group,'" Quinn said.
Although reps on the field are vitally important for NFL rookies, McGary has worked hard to stay as engaged as possible while sidelined. He's continued to learn the offense and his role in it, and he had a new perspective of the game while watching from the sideline.
"I feel like I'm in a good spot mentally," McGary said. "I understand more, I've had time to reflect and study ... When you're not playing, you're watching the guy that is playing and trying to learn. You go through and understand their reasoning, what their mentality is and how their progression of thought went for any given play. It's been a really good opportunity for me."