Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr has high hopes for the 2022 NFL season after his 2021 campaign was cut short by a torn meniscus.
Smith enjoyed a solid debut season in 2020 and was looking forward to building on the progress he made before everything came crashing down with his knee injury.
While he was on the bench, the Vikings had an indifferent year. They ended with a losing 8-9 record - finishing a distant second in the NFC North behind the Greenbay Packers.
Kevin O'Connell has taken over the head coach role for this season and hopes are high that the Vikings will be able to make a run at the playoffs, aided by the returning Smith Jr.
"I'm very confident once I get back on the field I'm going to be 100 per cent, and we're going to keep building on that," he said.
There was a lot of hype around Smith when he was drafted in 2019, with the hope that he would bring some extra defence for the quarterback and help unlock the Vikings' passing game.
There were glimpses of that in 2020, and even more so in the preseason in 2021 before he got injured.
While some Vikings fans might have moved on from the Smith hype in his time away, the tight end says his goals have not changed at all while he was in the treatment room.
"I still have that same [mindset]; in my mind, I've worked so hard throughout my life, so it's not like this is something that we built up the last camp," Smith said.
"I had a great camp and was looking forward to the season, but that momentum and everything hasn't slowed down."
Speaking about the injury, Smith Jr has no hard feelings and says it was just an unfortunate accident that could've happened to anyone.
"It was just kind of, like, a freak kind of accident that happened," he said.
"It happened on one of the first drives I was in the game and I kind of felt it.
"I didn't think it was too much and we wanted to play it safe and get an MRI the next day, and I found out I had hurt my knee more severe than what we thought.
"So I had done what was best for myself and kind of get it repaired but the surgery went well. My recovery has been going well, and I'm just blessed."