DAVIE, Fla. (May 4, 2005) -- A 36-year-old linebacker coming off a major injury still has a place in the NFL -- with the Miami Dolphins, at least.
Junior Seau is back on the practice field, learning new Miami coach Nick Saban's defensive scheme after weighing whether to return for a 16th pro season.
"There were thoughts of retirement," Seau said. "It was nice to have Nick call me up and say he wanted me to be part of this."
When Saban phoned in February offering a chance to return, Seau accepted. A torn pectoral muscle forced him to miss the final eight games of the Dolphins' miserable 2004 season, and that wasn't the way he wanted his career to end.
During the past two weeks, Seau participated in six days of voluntary practices for veterans -- "flag football," as he called it.
"I feel great," he said. "I had a long vacation. It has been six months since I've been out on the field. Getting back with the guys and back in the locker room -- we're all excited."
Seau likes the new mix of 4-3 and 3-4 alignments, which reminds him of the scheme he played during the pinnacle of his career with the San Diego Chargers. The change could allow him more playmaking opportunities, and teammates say they're glad Seau was invited back.
"Who are they going to bring in that they could upgrade over Junior?" linebacker Zach Thomas said. "I thought it was a great move. His love for the game rubs off on you."
Eager to prolong his own career, ninth-year veteran Thomas has adopted some of Seau's offseason regimen. Until last season, Seau never had a serious injury, missing only nine games in 14 years. And he played well in 2004, ranking second to Thomas in tackles before being hurt.
Seau, who still lives in San Diego, said other teams expressed interest in acquiring "the old man." A move to a new team didn't interest him, and he considered calling it quits.
"Golfing in San Diego is pretty tough to leave," he said. "Every day I think about retirement. This game is not meant for human beings to play beyond a certain amount of years."
But Saban, hired to reverse the fortunes of a franchise that sank to 4-12 last year, made Seau feel wanted.
"With the record we had, there had to be some big changes," Seau said. "When the captain of the ship calls and says, 'We want you to be part of it,' it gives you another thought to think about. ...
"I've had a great, great career, and I look forward to this year. I look forward to the Nick era."
The Associated Press News Service
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