Tight end Ben Patrick (left), here beating cornerback Greg Toler to a ball in training camp, hasn't done anything with the Cardinals since playing in the preseason finale Sept. 3.
When Ben Patrick was suspended in the offseason for violating the NFL's policy on steroids and related substances, he called the four-game ban the hardest thing he ever had to deal with.
When the tight end finally returned to the Cardinals' locker room Monday, his thoughts had just become more resolute.
"I don't want to deal with that ever again," Patrick said after having to stay away for five weeks because of the bye after ingesting Adderall. "It was tough, not only the schedule change during the week but especially on the weekend, knowing the guys were getting prepared and you can't be out there.
"It definitely made me appreciate (playing) that much more. (Sunday) night I was kind of like a kid before the first day of school, I was so excited to be back."
Patrick was suspended for testing positive when he said he took the pill to remain awake during a car-trip from Flagstaff to Phoenix. Because suspended players can't have any contact with coaches or the team during their punishment, Patrick had to find other ways to stay in shape.
He spent two weeks back at the University of Deleware, where he played college football as a senior, working out. When he returned, he went to Lifetime Fitness twice a day to lift weights and run, and then had pool workouts with his older brother, Freddie, at night.
Patrick credited his brother for helping him focus on staying in shape. Freddie Patrick was a one-time college running back for Tennessee-Chattanooga, playing with Terrell Owens at the school.
"My brother played a big part," said Patrick, whose mother also moved to Arizona when Patrick first made the team.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Patrick can add much to the position; Patrick was considered the most likely starter at tight end before his suspension was announced.
Whisenhunt hasn't decided yet on the roster move the Cardinals will make to clear room for Patrick – the team will get a roster exemption to buy some time in that regard – although fellow tight end Stephen Spach is nursing an ankle injury suffered Sunday.
Spach was one of the players that kept Patrick encouraged while he was gone, along with texts from former teammate Leonard Pope and defensive lineman Alan Branch, a fellow member of the 2007 draft class.
"(Missing teammates) is what I figured would be the worst thing," Branch said. "I wanted to stay in contact. We came in at the same time, we both went through a lot of stuff and we've always been there for each other. If the tables were turned, he'd be there for me."
Patrick said he watched the Cardinals on TV, running through a gamut of emotions when he did so.
"Being away from the guys, the daily grind and the funny things that happen during the week in the locker room and on the field (was hard)," Patrick said. "And not being able to help the team. I felt there were spots they could have used me."
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