LaMarcus Thompson obviously had to check out physically.
But before the Tennessee linebacker could even think about a return, it was just as important for him to be cleared mentally.
A hit that left Thompson on the ground in pain, forced him to be strapped to a stretcher and carted off the field against Ole Miss on Nov. 14 could have conceivably caused an impact that lasted longer than the shooting pain from his stinger. So with the Vols trying to get him back in the lineup Saturday (TV: ESPNU, 7 p.m.) at Kentucky, UT coach Lane Kiffin had to gauge Thompson's head perhaps more than his shoulder before putting him on the field again.
"A lot of it is mental, so it's good to see how he's coming back," Kiffin said. "What I wanted to see was, yes, he wanted to get back out here. We brought him in with (the defensive coaches), they talked to him and he really wanted to get back out there. That was the biggest hurdle to me.
"It can be real difficult, but it's like any game, there's a small percentage of injuries that happen and you just have to go back. It's like if somebody gets into a car accident. There's a fear to get back in a car if you've been in a severe accident, but you've got to get back."
As violent as the collision was late in the loss to the Rebels, fear doesn't seem to be a problem for Thompson. The Vols (6-5, 3-4 SEC) held him out last week against Vanderbilt as his shoulder healed, but it didn't take him nearly as long to get over any ill effects from the memory of the hit.
It was certainly a reality check for Thompson and led to him once again deciding to add a protective butterfly collar to his pads, but that seems to be the only real evidence left of the injury. He's moved around well at practice, smiled and joked with teammates like normal and appears ready to provide a boost to a beat-up defense against the Wildcats (7-4, 3-4).
"It felt great to get back out there and be with your teammates and having contact and not to feel any pain after the contact," Thompson said. "That was pain I never want to feel again. It was just a sharp pain down my sides, neck, stuff like that, but it's one of the things that happens in football. That's why we play this game. When you play this game, we know it's a dangerous game, but we love it.
"You try to forget it, because if you linger on it the next time you try to go take a hit, you're going to be scared that you're going to hurt yourself. You don't want to play scared, because that's how you get hurt again. You try to block it out, forget all about it and act like it never happened."
Whether or not Thompson can totally block it out won't be truly tested until kickoff against the Wildcats.
But the Vols have received nothing but positive feedback so far, and the rest of the team is just as ready to move on from the scare as Thompson.
"It seemed he was down like an hour," Kiffin said. "Problem is you can't do anything. You go through it in your mind, 'Do you go out there?' You can't really do anything, and it's a very helpless feeling because usually as a coach you can help in every other situation and things that happen with your players. That's one of the rare situations where you can't do anything. You feel pretty helpless.
"So being down on the ground as long as he was, the stretcher, the whole thing and how scary that is, we needed to see where he was at (mentally). It wasn't going to do us any good to force him back out and try to get him over that. I think you can tell he is."
Physically he's over it as well. But the Vols had to wait to be sure they were getting the whole package back.