Houston Houston Texans defensive tackle Cedric Killings surprised his teammates by walking into practice Friday, just five days after fracturing a vertebra in his neck.
Killings wore a neck brace and had a black eye from the headfirst collision with Indianapolis receiver Roy Hall on Sunday, but couldn't keep a huge smile off his face.
As he walked in, someone yelled "Oh God," before players began clapping and screaming.
He had been discharged from the hospital about an hour before the emotional reunion with his battered team that has 11 players out for the season and four more missing with less serious injuries.
"We're making you our honorary captain this week and we're going to go down there and get a W," coach Gary Kubiak said to raucous applause as Killings made his way into the post-practice huddle.
The Texans will travel to Atlanta on Sunday.
The 310-pound Killings fractured his C-4 vertebra and was unable to move any of his limbs for a time on the field last Sunday, but has since made a remarkable recovery. Earlier in the week, his neurosurgeon Dr. Rob Parrish had said he was weak in his arms, but that has since improved markedly.
"I'm just really excited, very fortunate and blessed to be in this position right here and to be able to be here standing in front of you and talking," Killings said before his release from the hospital.
Fellow defensive lineman N.D. Kalu was stunned when he saw Killings.
"It was great," he said. "You can't really put it into words to justify what we felt out there. Just seeing him walk through there was a great feeling."
After Kubiak spoke to the team, Killings, who was accompanied by his wife and a sister, was met with hugs and high fives from players and coaches.
"We were worried about him after what he'd been through," Kubiak said. "We knew he was doing good, but it's nice for all his teammates to be able to see him walk in here with a smile on his face. There's a special bond between players, what they go through to play this game, and to know that he's OK is a good feeling."
The 30-year-old Killings was cut by the Texans on Sept. 1, then re-signed two weeks later to add depth to the defensive line when Travis Johnson injured his ankle.
Cornerback Dunta Robinson said seeing Killings should give the team a lift in Atlanta as they try to rebound from last week's loss to the Colts.
"He'll definitely be on our minds when we're in Atlanta," Robinson said. "We want to get this win for Ced."
Defensive end Anthony Weaver said he was surprised at how good Killings looked.
"We all heard he was doing well and we knew he was going to get back," Weaver said. "But honestly, I didn't expect to see him walk in like he did. Take that neck brace off and it looked like he could play today."
Parrish, who said Killings had the "best attitude," said a key to his recovery was that proper steps were taken when the injury occurred.
"He was treated appropriately on the field, which is the first step in treating spinal cord injuries," Parrish said. "Fortunately, his injury was such that he's making an excellent recovery. He's a perfect specimen of the physical condition of NFL athletes. He's in great condition, and that's a great help."
Parrish said Killings would work with team trainers on his rehabilitation before going to Miami to continue his recovery at a facility near his home.