RIVER FALLS, Wis. — It was only a routine interception during 11-on-11 drills, nothing that won’t be repeated a hundred times in training camps all over the country.
But it gave Ty Law, who has been struggling for three years to regain the form that made him a five-time Pro Bowler, more satisfaction than the pick he returned 47 yards for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
“I broke on my bad foot,” Kansas City’s veteran cornerback said with a triumphant grin. “I was like, ’Oh, man! It works!’”
It isn’t as though Law’s been out of football since the foot injury shelved him for New England’s last nine games in 2004. His 10 interceptions for the New York Jets in 2005 tied for the NFL lead, and he topped the Chiefs last year with four picks.
But with every snap of the ball, he was having to compensate for the bad foot, make adjustments, alter his approach and summon every ounce of savvy and guile collected over a much-honored career that includes two awards as defensive back of the year.
“It was such a traumatic injury for me, even after going to the Jets and coming away with 10 picks,” he said. “I wasn’t the same guy. It was tough. They said it would be a two-year injury. I was playing more of a mental game.”
Last season with the Chiefs, reunited with former Jets coach Herm Edwards, he figures he was about 75 percent. Now, “Lord willing,” he’s hoping to reach 100 percent by the time Kansas City opens in Houston on Sept. 9.
Oddly, after playing on a lame foot for so long, being able-bodied sometimes feels awkward.
“I’m still getting my confidence in my ability to cut. There’s something new every day,” he said. “I actually feel kind of clumsy. I’m doing breaks and cuts that I haven’t done. I’m tripping over my own feet at times because I’m quicker.”
Law is one of only 34 defensive backs in league history with 50 or more interceptions. He’s 33, an advanced age for any defensive back, but he’s feeling so frisky he’s ready to reclaim his unofficial mantle as No. 1.
“I feel like I held the title. It was my crown as the best defensive cornerback in the game before my injury, and I’m looking to take it back,” he said. “At least in my eyes. That’s the approach I’m taking.”
Aging cornerbacks, some analysts have said, could prove a fatal soft spot on a Kansas City defense that should otherwise be improved. The linebackers, with the addition of veterans Napoleon Harris and Donnie Edwards, will be much quicker and more athletic. Rookies Tank Tyler and Turk McBride could infuse the defensive line with much-needed depth.
Law’s cornerback partner on the other side, Patrick Surtain, is 31.
“At the end of the day, I’m my biggest critic,” Law said. “I’m always challenging myself. That’s just how I’ve been my whole career. People are going to pat you on the back. People are going to say you’re not that great. I’ve heard it. But I’ve ran with the best of them throughout my career.
“I’ll be fine. I always tell myself that I ain’t worth a darn, just to motivate myself.”
Edwards said he did a double-take the first time he got a look at his two 30-something cornerbacks in camp.
“Ty looks as good as he’s looked in the last five years,” Edwards said. “And I’ve been with him the last two, so I kind of know his body shape. And I know Pat’s body shape. And they’ve both really lost a lot of weight. I told them both when they got out off the bus, ’You guys look like you’re in your fifth or sixth year all of a sudden.’ They really worked in the offseason.”
The Chiefs went through another rugged workout Thursday morning, but many said their thoughts were on the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis just about 40 miles from their Wisconsin camp.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those involved,” said Edwards, who was head coach of the New York Jets during the Sept. 11 attacks. “I was involved in another (tragedy) earlier in my career as a head in New York. Unless you’re in the city where it actually happens, you can’t understand how tough that is for people to deal with. Hopefully, the casualties will be very, very little.”