As the OTAs wind down and the team heads toward training camp in July, there is no hiding the fact that the Packers receiving corps is coming off a very challenging 2015 riddled by injury and missed opportunities. Yet as those string of injuries seem like a distant nightmare, it is important to address how they may or may not impact the receivers as they head into the new season.
Injury: Torn ACL
Prognosis: guardedly optimistic.
There is no question Nelson sustained the worst of the receiver’s injuries. The entire Packer Nation gasped in horror last August when Nelson turned on a route and collapsed to the ground without even making contact with another player. Yet it has been nearly a year since he had his knee reconstructed. All news in the offseason was promising, that he was rehabbing ahead of schedule. And then there were images of him playing catch on the sidelines during the playoffs last January.
Yet he still hasn’t been cleared to return to practice. He’s at the OTA’s. The media has snapped many photos to remind us that this season will not suffer a Nelson deficiency. But should we be worried that he is not participating? Absolutely not. It is important to keep in mind that the Packers medical staff is and will remain a very medically conservative entity. It takes a good 9-12 months to fully heal a knee reconstruction like Nelson underwent. Forget about the miraculous early comebacks such as Adrian Peterson or RGIII (look how that turned up.) They are the exception to the rule. If medical evidence and gold standard recommendations say 9 -12 months, then that is what Dr. McKenzie and his staff will adhere too.
ACL tears occur with the plant, then twist mechanism of injury. If the staff wants to minimize those risks (after all, that’s pretty much all the receivers do in passing drills) during OTAs yet are happy with his level of progress thus far, then I am not surprised they have decided to wait closer to the end of the 9-12 month window of healing and aren’t going to fully clear Nelson until training camp. Why risk if if he has already proven he knows the playbook and has an impeccable history of perfect routes?
As far as prognosis, there are no absolutes. Aaron Rodgers is a perfect example of an elite career following ACL reconstruction. If the medical staff and Jordy Nelson feel he is ready come training camp, there is no reason to believe otherwise.
“There’s nothing physically that’s holding me back. I’m not trying to push it and be ridiculous about anything, but I want to be at a certain spot when I leave here that come training camp, I’m ready to go and don’t have to work my way into it,” Nelson said this week. He’s aware of the risks, but is optimistic as well when it comes to the 2016 season.
Injury: high ankle sprain requiring surgical repair.
There had been so much promise for Ty Montgomery last year that seemed to evaporate when he vanished October 11 of last year with a high ankle sprain. That isn’t your garden variety type of ankle sprain you or I recall where we roll our ankle, it’s sore and swollen for a week or two and then we’re back on our feet. This is an injury to the high ankle ligaments that hold the two bones (tibia and fibula) together above the ankle joint. The ankle sprain we are most familiar with involves straining the ligaments that hold the lateral aspect of the fibula to the foot itself.
Needless to say, a high sprain is more severe of an injury. It takes, on average, six weeks to rehabilitate a sprain of this nature–longer if severe. And in some cases–as was the case with Montgomery–surgery is required to repair the ligament in order to stabilize the joint. When conservative measures of rest and rehabilitation didn’t work for Montgomery, there was only on choice left. After eight weeks of rehab, Montgomery acknowledged his ankle didn’t feel stable. He referred to it as “loose.” They had to go in and fix it.
The problem with Montgomery many assumed it was “just an ankle sprain.” The injury list never disclosed (when does it ever?) the true type of ankle sprain Montgomery had sustained. And if arm chair quarterbacks and weekend warriors can roll an ankle playing a pick up game of basket ball or tweak it while hiking with our dogs, then why couldn’t a professional athlete bounce back fast like we could?
Head Coach Mike McCarthy expressed this frustration with misconception when he said this past February, “Just talking with Ty after the season,” McCarthy said, “he was frustrated. He felt he had this injury, and people didn’t think he was (injured). I said, ‘No. 1, that’s not the case.’ Two, I said, ‘I appreciate that you went through every step.’ He tried to come back three or four different occasions. At the end of it, he had the operation. I said, ‘That’s the way a pro goes about.’”
Like Nelson, Montgomery has remained on the sidelines during workouts. Well, he’s been juggling a brick, so he’s not doing entirely nothing. But neither Montgomery nor McCarthy are worried about long-term issues. “Honestly I haven’t had any problems with it since the surgery. I’ve been doing everything I’ve been asked to do. I feel really good, I don’t have any problems or concerns,” said Montgomery last week.
Like Nelson, he will likely be ready to hit the ground running when camp opens in De Pere in July.
Injury: pneumothorax (punctured/collapsed lung)
Who can forget Randall Cobb going to the ground only to pop up gasping and short of breath during the playoff loss against the Arizona Cardinals? Spitting blood, it was obvious that he had sustained some sort of injury to his lung. To use an analogy, his lung sprung a leak.
Of all of the injuries that felled wide receivers last year, this was the most freaky random one to occur. Cobb went up, he came down, his chest hit the ground, and his lung punctured.
One theory both Cobb and the staff are wondering is whether the battery pack to the microphone he
volunteered was voluntold to wear during the matchup was blunt and hard point of contact between the ground and his chest wall.
In February, Cobb posited the following, “But I was mic’d up for the game. I landed flush on my back. The battery pack was on my shoulder pads and I landed flush on my back and we think that possibly could be it but there’s no way of proving it.”
It’s very well possible it was a contributing factor. Or it was a lung bleb–a thin walled defect in an air cell of the lung akin to a thin blister–that finally decided to rupture on impact. For all we know, Cobb had had a bleb his whole life and the injury was a perfect storm ticking bomb scenario that was waiting to happen with just the right impact.
Either way, the pneumothorax was not severe enough to require surgical intervention (inserting a chest tube into the lung cavity to evacuate the air leaking out of the lung and into the surrounding cavity.) It resolved on its own.
There is no reason to believe that this injury will have any impact on Cobb’s ability to play or perform at a high level this year.
Injuries: concussion, rib injury
Last year Wisconsin’s own Jared Abbrederis seemed to continue his string of bad luck when it came to injuries. In 2014 he was lost to the season with an ACL tear. Last August he went down with a concussion and was lost to the recovery protocol for a prolonged period of time. Then once he returned from that injury, he had a handful of catches in the game against Detroit before he was sidelined with a rib injury.
The answer to the rib injury is simple: it’s a moot at this point. Whatever he did–fracture, bruise, etc–has long healed.
The worry for Abbrederis has always been his head. I wrote about this last year when it happened. Prior to last August’s concussions, he had sustained three previous head injuries. The one last year sidelined him the longest. So now he has four head injuries in his past and that worry of CTE is hanging over every single player’s head. It’s a more informed league.
Will one more concussion signal the end of his career? The linear history of multiple concussions is not as neat as it is as something like ACL tear–repair–reinjury. But there is no question that athletes and medical staff a like understand the cumulative effects of repeated head injury.
Abbrederis was cleared to return to to play following that concussion last year. But what happens if he sustains another one this year? Will he have a prolonged recovery period like he did last time? Will either he or the Packers staff decide his long-term health is more important than playing time on the field?
Of all the receivers, he has the murkiest future. He’s a bubble player, likely competing with Jeff Janis for an active roster position. Will his past history of repeated head injuries be enough doubt if and when the staff has to make that decision.
As of today, he is cleared to play. But every one on there coaching and medical staff know his past.
Compared to last season, the Packers’ receivers depth chart is deep and talented. Hopefully the multitude of injuries from 2015 will have no carryover effect as they march one step closer to opening weekend. Time will tell how the events of last year will impact the coming one. But one thing is certain: as of right now, each receiver is on a trajectory to be ready for the first day of training camp.