With the offseason dates recently announced, let's take a look if the sophomore WR Devin Smith will be healthy enough to take part.
Recap of the Injury and the Recovery Process
Smith tore his ACL in December to end his rookie season. The Anterior Cruciate Ligament is a major ligament in the knee that aids in stabilization of the joint during movement as it prevents the tibia (aka shin bone) from moving too far forward.
The typical recovery process for an ACL reconstruction is about 9 months but can very anywhere from 6-12 months. The first phase of recovery takes about 3-4 months where the goals are to limit swelling and start regaining the range of motion and strength of a normal knee. Without restoring the baseline range of motion and strength in a timely manner, it will become difficult for Smith to run his routes with the speed and agility he had pre-injury alongside taking hits without reinjuring himself. Once he becomes cleared for walking without crutches, focus also turns to recreating a normal walking pattern.
Physical therapists will act to help ease the pain, reduce the swelling, and facilitate normal range of motion and strength of the knee. This by no means is a simple process and additional hands-on techniques may be applied to assure appropriate joint mobility and muscle length. Exercises are added to supplement what the PTs do and these exercises gradually become more functional to prepare the knee for normal daily activities. Examples of such exercises are squats, lunges, and balance activities; the ultimate goal is to develop enough single leg strength (meaning standing on one leg) so the knee can withstand your entire bodyweight while performing a dynamic movement. Single leg strength is crucial because walking/running is a series of single leg bounds; the more single leg strength, the faster the athlete can run.
Once adequate single leg strength is regained, the final phase of recovery can begin (approximately 6 months from surgery). At this stage, running and jumping can slowly become integrated into the recovery program and the athlete can eventually return to practice. Sports-specific activities need to be implemented before then to better prepare the knee for agility and speed drills, as well as absorbing contact from jumping. In addition, the athlete much have enough cardiovascular endurance to last a whole practice without any adverse effect the next day. The athlete can fully return to practice and start absorbing contact after approximately 9 months from surgery.
Will Smith Return for the Offseason?
At this time, there is a chance that Smith will be ready for training camp, but he will definitely not be ready for OTAs. Smith will be about 8-9 months removed from surgery at the start of August so the question remains about his conditioning level and how far along is his knee to take hits, run routes, block, etc. without the risk of reinjury. Furthermore, ACL recovery is very tricky as setbacks can easily happen thus delaying his comeback. Barring any setbacks, Smith should be ready for the season opener but it will not surprise me if he has a limited role for the first week or two of the season.