Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox was in good spirits at the Bears' offseason practice at Halas Hall on Wednesday, but still a long way from participating in practice and an even longer way from playing in a game.
Still rehabilitating from surgery to stabilize a vertabra in his back after suffering a horrific injury against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 18, a clearly underweight Knox acknowledged the possibility he might miss part or all of the 2012 season.
''It could happen, but I'm staying optimistic,'' said Knox, who was second in the NFL with 19.6 yards per catch last season, when he had 37 receptions for a team-leading 727 yards and two touchdowns. ''My main focus is in the weight room. I'm not in a rush. This is my spine, the core of my body I'm dealing with. It's not my knee or ankle or shoulder. I'm taking my time.''
Knox said he lost 30 pounds after the surgery but has regained 10 in rehab, which would put him at about 165 pounds on his 6-0 frame. He said he is jogging but not running routes and doing light weight-lifting to build up muscle. But there is no timetable whatsoever for his return.
''I'm doing great. I'm feeling a lot better from Day One,'' he said. ''Getting stronger. Working on some things to get stronger in my lower body and my back. Most importantly, mentally, too.''
Knox said he has not seen a replay of the collision that caused the injury, in which he was grotesquely bent backwards on a hit from Seahawks defensive end Anthony Hargrove as he tried to recover his own fumble after a short pass reception.
''I probably don't want to see it until I retire,'' Knox said.
But he said he was in no pain and doesn't dwell on the incident. ''I guess when it first happened I thought about it,'' he said. ''But other than that, it's in the past. I never think about it.''
He said he is hopeful he will play this season. But even if he does not, he is certain he will play in the NFL again.
''I'm just taking it day by day. No rush,'' he said. ''I know it's going to be a long process. But ... my rehab's going well. I'm on track. Our training staff is doing a really good job of [getting me] where I need to be.''
Though the Bears have been optimistic about Knox returning in 2012, their offseason acquisitions make it clear they are not counting on him. Not only did they trade for Brandon Marshall -- a move they would have made even with a healthy Knox -- they also drafted wide receiver Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina in the second round and signed free agents Eric Weems and Devin Thomas, both special teams contributors.
Asked about the acquisition of Marshall, Knox said, ''I'm really excited. Big-time elite receiver. We've got some new additions in the draft. I'm just looking forward to getting out there and playing with them.''
Told that the new receivers play his position, Knox chuckled. ''Hey, I'm trying to learn every position,'' he said. ''It doesn't matter. In this offense, anybody can get the ball.''
True to his nature, Knox has been optimistic in the aftermath of a devastating and career-threatening injury.
''Since Day One, my mindset has been real positive,'' he said. ''No letdowns. No setbacks. I'm surrounded by a great group of people, a great organization, friends, family and they're keeping me positive and I'm just staying positive and moving forward.''