Mark Clayton looks back, on the doorstep of the 2011 season

Mark Clayton is happy just to be walking again, let alone running routes. Photo from his Twitter account.

After an up-and-down start to his career in Baltimore, Mark Clayton thought he had finally found a home in St Louis, and a promising new start with rookie wunderkind Sam Bradford. Six short weeks later, he was in almost unbearable agony, abstract things like hope obliterated by the incessant pain and struggle of his rehab from patellar tendon surgery.

“It was long. It sucked and it hurt. I cried, literally. I called one of the trainers here and told him he needed to take me to the hospital … my heart was just (pounding). The day after surgery was the worst I’ve ever felt.”

Clayton admits to Ron Clements of CBS Sports that he thought about quitting, and it wasn’t until six months into the rehab that he started to feel capable of playing football again. By then, the Lockout had begun, putting his position with the Rams in limbo, and separating him from the team’s trainers.

Now, after rejoining the Rams on a one-year deal, he starts the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, sidelined for the team’s first five games. In a sense, he’ll be able to complete the season he started in 2010.

Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s not itching to get out on the field right away.

“With guys like us, who want to go hard and want to go strong, it takes smart, wise people to say, ‘Look, we’re going to hold you and let you get to the maximum,’ “

The offense he’ll come back to will have changed significantly from the one he just started to learn in 2010, stepping on the playing field with no training camp and just a handful of practices with the Rams. But that doesn’t seem to bother him at all.

“It’s hard to put into words. I about cried when Josh came in and he told me his philosophy and his approach to calling plays. It’s awesome… a lot of potential for this offense to be really explosive.”

Clayton appeared to jump-start Bradford’s comfort level in the new offense, but the team continued to grow after his departure, bettering their win total from the last three seasons combined and challenging for the NFC West title. The team will be facing up against some of the best the NFL has to offer while Clayton sits during the season’s first six weeks.

Like Clayton’s rehab process, there may be struggles and pain involved. But hopefully they will emerge a stronger and better-prepared football team for the rest of the season ahead.