Will Ryan Tannehill's knee hold up under pressure? That's the question everyone is asking, whether they're a fan of the now veteran quarterback or not. Tannehill hasn't played an NFL game since 2016, and he re-injured his knee after running to the sidelines during training camp of 2017, leading him to miss the entire season and forcing the Dolphins to sign a retired Jay Cutler to take over.
Naturally, there is some hesitation to trust that things will be different this time.
Last year, I wrote a story about how I believed that Tannehill's sprained/partially torn ACL and MCL would be able to heal naturally, and I provided personal testimonies of people who opted to forgo surgery in favor of letting the body do what it's designed to do and heal on its own.
While I stand by the fact that it can happen that way, Tannehill didn't have the luxury of time on his side. Clearly, I underestimated how much time is necessary for an injury like his to heal on its own properly, so this time around I was all for Tannehill getting the surgery, which he did.
So why is there even more distrust than ever? Shouldn't him getting the surgery make people more willing to believe he'll be healthy? Not less?
This is why I am here to try and put these fears to rest. This time, instead of just basing it off of my own personal observations, I went ahead and asked professional orthopedic surgeons what everyone should expect regarding knee injuries, and by extension, Ryan Tannehill's recovery.
For this story, I interviewed Dr. Alejandro Posada and Dr. Alfred Desimone, both of whom have specialties (or subspecialties) in sports medicine and are well-acquainted with what ACL injuries in the NFL entail. So the first thing I did, naturally, was explain the Tannehill situation to them, explaining the partial tear and Tannehill's initial decision to let it heal naturally.
Dr. Desimone made it perfectly clear what he thinks about that initial diagnosis.
"In my opinion there is no such thing as a partial tear." he said. "Any compromise to the Anterior Cruciate
Ligament will often cause instability to an athlete’s knee, especially if he is a high demand professional athlete."
Well then, that's pretty significant.
And Dr. Desimone seemed to be proven right when Tannehill completely tore his ACL in camp of 2017. It was non-contact, he didn't get touched, and he got hurt anyway.
"I knew it wasn’t good." Tannehill said in late May. "Honestly, I wasn’t really processing all of that. I just knew it was bad. I don’t know. I kind of went into a shock a little bit of ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ It’s been a long time since then and it’s tough to go back to that state but I’m a long way from there and feeling really good right now.”
Despite what happened, Tannehill said that he wouldn't change the way he handled the situation, though he did admit that he wished he'd gotten a different opinion. But, as Tannehill said, that's in the past. Now, things seem to be progressing well, and his knee appears to be as strong as it ever was.
This goes hand-in-hand with the reports that Tannehill was out jogging up and down the stairs just a few months after his surgery. According to Dr. Posada, this meant that Tannehill was essentially getting back to work as early as possible.
"There are different stages. The earliest people should consider running is about three months," Dr. Posada said. "You can start jogging at about three months, sometimes a little bit earlier. Before that, what you do is you get the motion back, you get the strength back, they can do some bike riding, they can do some slides, side to side on a sliding board. But running can sometimes cause swelling and slow down the recovery."
From what we can tell, Tannehill did not suffer any such drawbacks, and his recovery went as smoothly as it possibly could have. He worked tirelessly to get his knee back in working order, and linebacker Raekwon McMillan even credited Tannehill with helping him through his own ACL struggles.
So Tannehill got the surgery, there were no drawbacks, and Tannehill is doing well in practice so far. All of this is good news. But the million dollar question is this, and it's the one everyone is asking. How much of an injury risk is Ryan Tannehill now? How likely is it that he'll get hurt again?
"Probably the risk is about anywhere between eight and ten percent of re-injuring the knee going back at a reasonable time," Dr. Posada said. "I mean if he doesn't go back prematurely, it's about ten percent. If he's going to injure it, he's probably going to injure it getting hit."
That seems obvious to hear, of course he has a chance of getting inured if he gets hit...but that's the same risk no matter who the player is, and that's the part that needs to be kept in perspective. Tannehill's risk of getting injured again is not that much greater than anyone else's. The reconstructive surgery, assuming it was done correctly (it seems to be), is meant to make sure that Tannehill doesn't have another incident like he did in training camp last season.
So with that answered, the question then becomes this: what are the chances Tannehill can return to his pre-injury form? Is Miami doomed to play with a QB under center who's only a shadow of what he used to be?
"Returning to activities to a level or greater than prior to injury really has to do with proper compliance and strengthening." said Dr. Desimone. "Often athletes sustain this injury because they are weak or have an imbalance in musculature. It is very possible to return in a much improved state if in fact an athlete becomes very compliant with their strengthening regimen. If the procedure is done correctly and the athlete remains compliant with regards to the stretching and strengthening protocols subsequent to surgery, the athlete should be able to return in a full unrestricted manner to sports."
So Tannehill could come back stronger than ever, if he's been compliant with his recovery regimen. Has he though?
"Throughout the rehab process, you’re pushing it. I’m grinding it out, I’m running, I’m cutting. I’m doing a lot more agility and movements that I won’t really be doing playing football." Tannehill said. "The knee has been tested to the ninth degree of pushing it as far as it can go. When I’m out on the field, I’m just playing football. It’s past thinking about it or questioning it. Now it’s just go out and do my job.”
There you have it. With surgery and rehab behind him, and Tannehill having done everything he can do to optimize his situation, there's no reason to believe he's anymore of an injury risk than anyone else. There's no "natural healing" to scratch heads at. He had the surgery, and these two orthopedic experts have given their insight into what can be expected to happen.
What is left to question?
As we wrap this up, I will leave a list of notable players who suffered ACL injuries in their careers and came back just as strong as ever, if not stronger, just to put the final nail in the coffin.
2005/2006: QB Carson Palmer
2007/2008: QB Philip Rivers
2006: QB Donovan McNabb
2014: QB Carson Palmer (yes, again)
2011: RB Adrian Peterson
That's just a small list. There are other examples, but I feel the point has been made.
Is Ryan Tannehill a risk to get injured? Of course he is, but the same can be said for anyone who has ever played in the NFL. Cameron Wake was supposed to end his career after suffering a torn Achilles, but he's still sacking QBs. There's no reason to believe Tannehill is suddenly made of glass.
He's taken all the right steps, and he's done everything that can be expected of him. Now, all that's left is to get back to football and pick up where he left off in 2016. The knee is no longer a concern. It's not a concern to Tannehill, to the Dolphins, nor should it be to Dolphins fans. It's time to get back to football.
"I don’t question it and don’t really think about it." Tannehill said. "I’m just playing and trying to get back in the groove of playing football again. It’s been a while, so I’m knocking some dust off, getting back on the field, being in the pocket and moving around – command at the line of scrimmage and all of those types of things. It’s not as clean as I want it to be yet, but I’m getting better and just being on the field is a lot of fun for me.”
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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