It's been a long year for Mike Cloud. Between dealing with free agency, a calf injury and an NFL suspension, his football life has been anything but a certainty. But it appears most of that is now behind the former Boston College star and that he will have a chance to prove himself in New England.
With Sunday's Patriots game at Washington, Cloud fulfilled the final installment of his four-game NFL suspension for testing positive under the league's policy on steroids. After missing most of training camp with a calf injury and then the four weeks with the suspension, the 5-10, 205-pound running back is now ready to show his new team what he is capable of on the football field.
"Physically and mentally I am ready to go," Cloud said Monday after rejoining the Patriots. "I've been fired up for quite a while now to get back in uniform to be with the guys and help out on Sundays and get a win."
Cloud will join the Patriots for practices and meetings this week, but will not count towards the team's 53-man roster limit thanks to an exemption from the league.
"We have been granted a one-week exemption on him so he will be with us this week and for one week he will not count on the 53-man roster," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said Cloud's status. "That is what his situation is. I haven't seen him in a month. I don't know what he can do. We will try to evaluate it in that period of time and go from there."
Following the one-week exemption, the Patriots will either have to make a roster move to create room for Cloud on the 53-man roster or cut him.
Even Cloud isn't exactly sure what to expect when he joins his teammates on the practice field on Wednesday. While he has been working out to stay in shape in Boston, he hasn't been in a football environment for some time.
"I haven't put on pads," Cloud said. "So we'll wait and see where I am at with that."
Belichick too is approaching Cloud's potential contributions with an open mind.
"Mike's on field participation for us has been limited to a very few days and that even includes the beginning of preseason practices," Belichick said. "That was basically two months ago. What he can do at this point and through no fault of his own, he really didn't have a chance to show a whole lot of what he could do even in the brief time that he was here. When you are asking me what he can do, I really don't know. I don't know. I have to wait and see. We will put him into whatever situations we can put him into and evaluate it based on that. I don't think there is a whole lot to go on from this year. What we can go on is what we saw when he was at Kansas City. There were certainly a lot of things that we like there which is why we signed him in the first place. Based on where he is at now, or where he is at this year, I wouldn't even begin to hazard a guess."
"It's been pretty tough for me the last month watching the guys on film and watching them play games," Cloud said. "It's been rough, but I've kept my mind straight and I am happy to be back working out with the guys."
While the end of the suspension essentially puts the drug test failure behind Cloud that doesn't mean the issue is dead. Cloud failed the test after taking a protein powder called Nitro-Tech while he was still a member of the Chiefs. Apparently the product contained metabolites of the steroid nandrolone. The NFL tested the product and found it to contain the illegal substance without declaring it on it's label, but due to the league's zero-tolerance policy, the player still had to serve the suspension regardless of circumstances.
Now Cloud is fighting back. According to a report on CBSSportsline.com he has filed a lawsuit in his home state of Rhode Island, the place where the product was purchased, against MuscleTech, the maker of Nitro-Tech. The suit claims MuscleTech failed to disclose the addition of substances such as norandrostenedione and androstenediol that would cause an athlete such as Cloud to fail a drug test.
"I'm hoping that this lawsuit will accomplish several goals," Cloud told CBSSportsline.com. "First, to vindicate my name and to hold MuscleTech responsible for its mistakes, and hopefully to prevent other athletes from having their reputations and careers harmed in this fashion."
But that is the court's hands now. Cloud is more concerned with proving himself in New England and earning his way on to the active roster.
"It's good to have the bigger part of it behind me now," Cloud said Monday. "I look forward to the rest of the season here and helping the guys out."