Not too long ago, in an NFL very nearby, certain injuries spelled doom for players. Tearing a knee ligament, blowing out an Achilles, and microfracture surgery sometimes led to an end of a professional football career for players smack in the middle of their prime. With the progression of modern medicine, athletes can now return to their glory, and do so sooner than ever before.
In speaking with the NFL on ESPN crew on Friday, Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien was asked about the progress of Jadeveon Clowney, last year's No. 1 overall draft pick. Clowney's injury issues plagued his rookie season, which culminated in microfracture surgery in early December. O'Brien was tentative, in terms of an official timetable for Clowney's return, but sounded hopeful he would play Week 1:
Texans HC Bill O'Brien on Jadeveon Clowney: "I think he's gonna be there for the opening game against Kansas City." pic.twitter.com/04fgUOR3ms— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) June 12, 2015
When folks checked back with Clowney in March, he claimed that he was "progressing well", so it appears as if things are moving in the right direction. The experts on ESPN, however, noted that the usual turnaround for a full recovery from microfracture surgery is about 18 months. Players can and have played well before that time frame, but some have experienced issues when rushed back.
One recent example is Kansas City Chiefs tight end, Travis Kelce. The third-year tight end had the same surgery before the 2014 season and was rushed back. In speaking with a Cleveland radio station back in March, Kelce admitted that he wasn't feeling the same right away.
"My knee still wasn’t full strength last year which is why I’m excited about this year. Now I get the time to take a full offseason, get my legs ready, get my upper body and my explosiveness back that I know I had. I didn’t really feel that comfortable on the field, but we made it work," Kelce said on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland.
So let's move Northeast from both of those cities to Cincinnati, Ohio. After garnering a Pro Bowl berth in 2013, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict fought through a myriad of injuries last year. The club struggled to fully figure out what was going on with his knee, so the decision was made for Burfict to undergo a microfracture procedure of his own in January.
At last check-in, head coach Marvin Lewis told the media that Burfict would be rehabbing throughout the summer. "Vontaze will be in rehab all the way through the summer. So, he's got a long ways to go. He had surgery in January. That's a surgery that takes a bit," Lewis said a few weeks ago. His outlook doesn't presently look as promising as Clowney's, who had surgery just a month earlier than Burfict.
If you've also been keeping note of Bengals news this offseason, many of this year's criticisms circle around the linebacker group as a team weakness. Even though the team re-signed Rey Maualuga and brought in A.J. Hawk via free agency, as well as drafting P.J. Dawson in the third round, analysts aren't high on a group that might be missing Burfict for an unspecified amount of time in 2015.
Pete Prisco just recently said the same over at CBS Sports, with the most damning sentence succinctly declaring, "But if Burfict is out for a while, or not the same player, the unit will be an issue". There is a fine line to walk here, and if the team was to learn any lessons from last year, it's not to rush or rely very heavily on players coming back from big injuries sustained the prior year.
Still, if Burfict does come back a little earlier than expected, he could initially be eased back into the lineup, if the team uses a rotation. Emmanuel Lamur is a nickel player, and utilizing a mixture including Lamur, Maualuga, Hawk and Dawson should hide some of the weaknesses of the group, while still allowing Burfict to play in spurts and get his legs back under him.
Regardless, it's going to be an arduous next few months for the star-crossed linebacker in his road to recovery. The sooner the "old Vontaze" shows back up in Cincinnati, the better a football team the Bengals will then become.