Cornerback Greg Toler (28) celebrates his first interception of the season Sunday with teammate Patrick Peterson.
Something was different about Greg Toler on Sunday.
It wasn't that the cornerback was seeing significant playing time with the Cardinals' first-team defense for the first time since 2010. Or that he was making big plays throughout the second half, including an interception in the third quarter.
It was noticeable when he ran onto the field at University of Phoenix Stadium for the first of his 44 defensive plays against the Miami Dolphins. Toler wasn't wearing his knee brace.
He tore his left ACL during the third preseason game of 2011 and missed the entire year. He returned to the field for OTAs and was practicing full time by training camp. But he missed practice late in the preseason with another knee injury due to overcompensation from the ACL.
"It feels like I can go without the brace," Toler said.
Toler was inactive for the season opener against Seattle because of a hip injury and made his 2012 debut on special teams at New England. He made his first tackle of the season against Philadelphia and after letting an interception bounce off his chest earlier against Miami, he snagged one of Ryan Tannehill's passes in the third.
Toler's long wait to return to the field was finally over.
"I was patient," he said. "I know what I'm capable of. When I'm healthy, I know what I can do."
After reviewing the game film, Toler was surprised he made some plays without the brace on.
But Sunday was progress, both physically and mentally. Furthermore, it helped boost Toler's confidence. He finished with seven tackles, third-best on the team against Miami, and was in on four special-teams snaps.
"Greg has been working to get back in it," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "He was not healthy in camp. He was fighting it in camp and he's gotten a little bit stronger each week, and during the course of the game yesterday, we made that move (to play him) because we thought it was best because of the matchup situation. Greg played well."
Strong safety Adrian Wilson praised Toler after the game and Toler said the coaching staff has been supportive throughout the past year. But Toler is his own worst critic, and noted he needs to fine-tune his technique.
That's minor compared to the hurdles he's had to overcome since last August. It was the first major injury – and first surgery – of Toler's career, he said.
"It was just a humbling experience," he said. "God wants you to know this game isn't for long and you got to cherish every moment out there and I do that now."
RAMS NOTICE DOCKETT'S ENERGY
There's still the possibility defensive tackle Darnell Dockett will miss a second consecutive game. He was limited in practice Monday and Tuesday. If he does not play, Rams running back Steven Jackson said whoever fills Dockett's position has a specific role to play.
"(Darnell) has high energy. He plays for four quarters," Jackson said. "If he does not play I'm pretty sure whoever fills in for him is going to have a challenge in matching his energy because we have a great respect for what Darnell brings."
PLAYERS REMAIN GAME-DAY DECISIONS
The short week leading up to Thursday's game at St. Louis isn't just affecting gameplans. It's also prohibiting Whisenhunt from evaluating his injured players. Dockett (hamstring) was limited for the second straight day, and tight end Todd Heap (knee) and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hip) were upgraded to limited in Tuesday's injury report. The Cardinals practiced without pads Tuesday inside ASU's bubble. Whisenhunt will have to wait until pregame warm-ups to evaluate their improvement.
"I think they're all making progress," Whisenhunt said. "The big thing is going to be testing them out before the game because we haven't been able to do a lot of high intensity stuff in practice. They can participate as far as the walk-through parts of it. The mental part of it, they can be in-tune with it but unless they're ready to go game day and they feel good enough then they won't play."
Quarterback John Skelton participated in his first full practice since spraining his ankle against Seattle on Sept. 9.
Linebacker Quentin Groves (hamstring) was the only Cardinal to not practice Tuesday. Cornerback Michael Adams (hamstring) and tight end Jim Dray (knee) were upgraded to limited. Also limited were linebacker Paris Lenon (knee), linebacker O'Brien Schofield (knee), fullback Anthony Sherman (hamstring), guard Adam Snyder (elbow) and nose tackle Dan Williams (foot).
Rams running back Steven Jackson (groin) was upgraded to limited Tuesday. Starting left tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) missed practice for the second straight day.