Deion Sanders can run forward and backward as fast as he wants for as long as he wants. It's making the cuts necessary to play cornerback that are keeping the All-Pro on the sidelines.
Sanders said Wednesday that despite his efforts to rehabilitate his injured left big toe, he still doesn't know when it will be strong enough for him to return to the Dallas Cowboys.
"Everything a cornerback does is on the toes," said Sanders, who was wearing open-toed sandals with two strips of tape holding a foam wedge in place between the injured toe and the next one.
"I'm going to really try my best to turn it on up in the next few weeks, a little bit at a time. Right now, it's tremendous pain to push off on, plant -- and that's my whole game, reaction."
A severe case of turf toe kept Sanders out of the final five games of last season, although he returned for a first-round playoff loss in January and the Pro Bowl in February. He then had the toe surgically repaired in April.
The goal of his rehabilitation is for the left big toe to be as strong as the right one. Doctors have told him that might not happen for as long as six months after the operation, which would be October.
"I can't say it's better, worse," Sanders said. "I can say it's getting better all the time, but I can't really tell that until I really turn it up another level."
Sanders refused to give a timetable for his return and was protective of the details of his recovery regimen.
However, he did seem to have fun discussing both subjects, even turning the topic of his return into a lively guessing game.
When told that trainer Jim Maurer said Tuesday he's aiming for Sanders to be back for the Sept. 12 opener against Washington, Sanders raised his eyebrows and said: "Yeah? On the sideline? Coaching?"
When reminded that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has said Sanders could be back by October, Sanders said: "I would think people must confer with me before speaking their goals." He then added, "My goal is just whatever the Lord will have me to do, brother."
Sanders, 31, has a financial incentive to return quickly. If he plays 70 percent of Dallas' defensive snaps and makes the Pro Bowl, he'll get a $1.5 million bonus. He's already made $3.5 million in bonuses and he has a $3 million base salary as part of a five-year deal that pays him the highest annual salary ($10.5 million a year) in league history.
Sanders was skipping rope on the sidelines Wednesday and said he runs every morning. He's also been riding a bicycle around the Midwestern State University campus, but that's as much transportation as rehabilitation.
Sanders vowed that when he returns he'll be available at cornerback and punt returner. H didn't mention wide receiver, but he was wearing a Cowboys cap that belongs to Tommie Robinson, an assistant receivers coach.
"I'm going to come back just the way I left," he said. "I don't want limitations."
All this time off has given Sanders plenty of time to think, and he admits he's thought about the day when his career will be over. He said he's convinced his strong faith -- and a strong bank account -- will help him handle it.
"If it isn't His will for me to come back this year or to play any more, I'm fine -- financially, mentally, physically and spiritually," said Sanders, who in May married actress-model Pilar Biggers.
"I'm praying that He allows me to come back this year. But if not, I'm fine."
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