Cornerback Greg Toler (28), coming back from major surgery on his left knee, chases wide receiver Andre Roberts on a go route during Tuesday's OTA.
Greg Toler had stayed stride-for-stride with No. 1 draft pick Michael Floyd and ripped away the ball to spoil a catch on a deep route down the field, an impressive play for Toler's first day playing since shredding his knee last preseason.
All the cornerback could think about was getting beat by wide receiver Andre Roberts on a similar play earlier in the organized team activity, leaving him shaking his head. "He was sure to let me know," Toler said.
"That's how competitive he is," Roberts said, smiling about it Wednesday when recounting the moment. "I was talking to him in the weight room like, three weeks ago, and I told him, 'I'm going to test that knee out when you get back on the field.' Every time I've gone against him (these two days) it's been a 'go' route. I lined up thinking, 'I got the knee again!' "
Testing the knee, however, is what this summer is about. Toler's diligent rehab work put him in a position to take part in OTAs, even if it means a limit of eight or nine reps a day in team and 7-on-7 work.
That's more than he was doing last season, though, after the disappointing injury against the Chargers the third game of the preseason.
"I've just got to get back into it mentally," Toler said. "One play at a time. I haven't been out there in seven or eight months."
Early returns are, defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi said he was encouraged by Toler's summer start and that the fourth-year defensive back "picked up where he left off." At the time, Toler was a starter, and William Gay is holding that spot now across from Patrick Peterson. Toler would like to get back into that conversation once training camp starts.
"We have to make sure we are conservative," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We have to get his body acclimated to football competiveness again. He's been working on drills but when you are out there going against a receiver and break on the ball, it's different. We're not trying to rush that right now."
Cioffi raved about Toler's intangibles and physical gifts. Finding time to work everyone in – aside from Peterson, Toler and Gay, the Cards have A.J. Jefferson, Michael Adams, Marshay Green, Crezdone Butler, Korey Lindsey, draft pick Jamell Fleming and a couple of undrafted rookies at cornerback – isn't simple.
Cioffi would prefer an army of guys anyway. "If I could have a whole team of corners, I would," he said.
Toler, who signed a one-year tender offer worth $1.26 million for this season after being a restricted free agent, will be part of that army. That's why practicing now, with games weeks away, has quenched a thirst.
"(Tuesday) I was just tapping my feet (anxiously)," Toler said. "If you're not getting reps, you get mental reps. I definitely missed it, man."
That includes the competition on the field and the talk of competition off it.
"He still needs to have the pressure of us talking trash to him, but in his own mind, he knows he's getting better," Roberts said. "He's looking pretty good out there. I'm not going to tell him that yet, but he's looking pretty good out there."