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Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray (19) hands off the ball to running back Chad Kackert (44) during first quarter CFL action against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Toronto on Thursday July 11, 2013. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray (19) hands off the ball to running back Chad Kackert (44) during first quarter CFL action against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Toronto on Thursday July 11, 2013. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Rachel Brady

After long rehab, Kackert returns to lineup of hobbled Boatmen Add to ...

When Chad Kackert crashed to the turf during a July 19 contest in Winnipeg, he felt the worst pain he had experienced in his football career.

In the seconds after the Toronto Argonauts running back absorbed a thundering low hit from Blue Bombers defensive back Alex Suber, Kackert knew it was the sort of knee injury that would sideline him a long while – and that meant waiting an interminably long time to prove he could run the ball a lot better than he was doing at the time.

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He was anxious to play like he had late in 2012, breaking tackles, making guys miss, rollicking into open space, all the way to the Grey Cup title.

First, he would have to rest, heal and wait.

After rehabbing a torn MCL in his knee for eight long weeks, the Grey Cup MVP practised this week – taking reps with the first-team offence – and has been cleared should the Argos (6-4) choose to start him Saturday against the Roughriders (8-2) in Regina.

He’s eager to return to his 2012 form, show off the elusiveness that had attracted interest from NFL teams in the off-season.

“At first, the pain is terrible, and you think about how bad it is and you let the physical pain start to manipulate your thoughts and you feel sorry for yourself,” Kackert said. “Things for me weren’t going the way they were late last season. And when I got hurt, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to prove anything for a long while.

“But here I am now, and I’m glad to have an opportunity to prove myself.”

Toronto’s attack has been decidedly pass-happy this season, and the squad currently ranks last or second-last in nearly every CFL team rushing category. In half of the Double Blue’s 10 games so far, it has failed to crack 100 yards on the ground.

Kackert had 189 yards on 36 attempts and a single touchdown before getting injured. Since he’s been out, the team has relied a lot on running backs that are unproven or new to the CFL.

The Argos have also been without veteran quarterback Ricky Ray (shoulder) for two games now and may miss him for upwards of another four. Marquee receiver and special-teams star Chad Owens is sidelined with ailing ribs.

Adding Kackert back into the mix could help keep afloat the Boatmen, a team being led by 25-year-old backup quarterback Zach Collaros and holding a single-game lead over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats atop the East Division.

“We have our guy back, that’s just the best way to describe how we feel,” offensive tackle Chris Van Zeyl said with a smile. “He’s kept his body in great shape, I mean, just look at him. Now, it’s just adjusting to getting in game shape, which is a very different thing, but we’re happy to have him back, hitting the holes.”

The tackle the 5-foot-8, 206-pound Kackert suffered his injury on caused a stir at the time. Many believed Suber was flying far too low on the hit, making impact right at knee-level.

“I don’t know Suber personally, and I would like to think he has good character, and didn’t hurt me intentionally – even though it looked like a cheap shot. But I don’t think there are people out there who are that ill-intentioned, otherwise it might take me more time to come back to the game,” Kackert said. “It might take a few plays when back in a game to get those fears out of my head, but I think I’m at a point now where I can take a hit and not worry about my knee.”

Follow on Twitter: @RBradyGlobe

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