A former NFL team doctor is skeptical about the future of Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith and his ability to play football wearing a brace for foot drop.
One of the biggest stories concerning the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, other than the future of quarterback Tony Romo, has been the up and down medical reports concerning former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith.
Drafted early in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Smith fell to the Cowboys after suffering a devastating knee injury during the Fiesta Bowl last January. Tearing both his ACL and LCL, the injury also caused significant nerve damage and was considered career-threatening.
The Cowboys brass decided the medical risks outweighed the potential rewards and selected Smith with the 34th overall pick. The 21-year old linebacker sat out all of last season in an attempt to give his knee ample time to heal.
In January, it was reported that Smith’s nerve had begun regenerating. And it appeared the Cowboys risky investment could pay off. What followed was numerous videos of Smith working out, running and jumping like the world class athlete that he is.
Then, last week it was reported that Smith’s nerve was no longer firing. And that the injury wasn’t healing as quickly as the medical staff had hoped. But Smith would try to play anyway, wearing a brace for drop foot which is a result of the nerve damage.
Now, a former NFL team doctor has come forward as being very skeptical about Smith’s future playing with that brace.
"“A hinged AFO (ankle foot orthosis) will allow you to have your foot flex up, but not have it slap down,” former New England Patriots team doctor, Dr. Thomas Gill, told MMQB.com. “So basically, you wear a brace so when you’re running or walking, your foot can have clearance when you swing your leg forward. But it’s not built for speed…You have to be a freakish athlete where you can afford to lose 20 or 25 percent of your speed, at least, and 45 percent of your power, and still be able to compete in the NFL.”"
Dr. Gill went on to explain how the brace could lead to more injuries as Smith’s inability to point his toe could leave his foot in awkward positions during tackles, possibly making him more susceptible to injuries like high ankle sprains. Nearly twenty years ago, former Patriots running back Robert Edwards had the same drop foot issue according to Gill. When Edwards attempted to play with the ailment, he didn’t last a single season.
But ask any physician. Every patient is different. And everyone heals differently. Although the former Patriots’ team doctor is more qualified than most to expound about the injury and the brace itself, he’s not part of the Cowboys medical staff.
And since it was Dallas’ own head team physician, Dr. Daniel Cooper, who performed the original surgery on Smith’s knee. And it’s his staff that is overseeing his rehabilitation on a daily basis, I’d personally side more with the optimism that’s coming out of the Cowboys’ camp than anywhere else.
"“We factually know and are optimistic about more that [Smith’s] feeling and nerves are improving,” Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones told DallasCowboys.com recently. “We know that.”"
That’s not to say fans shouldn’t be concerned. Obviously, anytime you have to wear a brace in any sport, it isn’t ideal. And until Smith actually starts playing football with it on, no one really knows how his leg will respond and what his level of play can be.
Smith could certainly be described as a freakish athlete, as he was once touted as a possible top five draft selection. Combined that with his already legendary work ethic, and if any athlete can make the brace work, it’s likely the seemingly always positive Jaylon.
"“Everything that [Smith’s] about in terms of his competitiveness, in terms of what you want. His makeup, you could call it, is off the charts,” Jones continued. “We have every reason to think that he’s going to come in here and be an impact player.”"
Best case scenario is that the nerve in Jaylon Smith’s knee regenerates to the point where he no longer needs the brace. Until then, let’s just take this one step…and hopefully, one tackle at a time.