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Thoughts and Perspectives on the Bradford Injury

Any injury on a team is tough, especially when it involves arguably your best player. We won't argue about that, since we have plenty of other players who could compete for that honor, including Gerald McCoy. Sam Bradford injured his AC joint in his right shoulder late in the first half against the BYU Cougars on Saturday Night. An earlier post has already detailed a basic overview of the injury and what to expect as far as treatment goes.

We haven't learned much on a timetable for Bradford. The general consensus appears to be that this is a 2-3 week type injury. However, certain things lead me to believe that this might sideline Bradford for longer than that:

  • OU has a history of going very slowly and conservatively when returning NFL-caliber prospects from injuries. Such was the case of Adrian Peterson the year before he turned pro. You have to use that information in context with what was said Sunday by the coaching staff:
  • "Those are not just necessarily for our team, but those are two tremendous players that have great futures. We want to make sure their best interest is taken into consideration with what's being done," Wilson said.
  • The general focus on beating Texas will probably make the coaches and trainers want to have Sam as healthy as possible for that game, if indeed he could even play by that point.
  • We don't yet know how severe the injury actually is. A Type-1 AC Joint Sprain is mild and athletes can usually recover in a couple of weeks. If it's more severe, though, the arm may need to be immobilized for a few weeks, and then another 6 weeks or so of rehab would be necessary to rebuild strength in the arm.
  • By all accounts, it's an extremely painful injury. Having that happen to your throwing shoulder can't be good.

It'll be interesting to see how quickly Bradford can get back. My colleague Seth Wickersham texted me something related to this, saying that former Utah QB Alex Smith had a similar injury a few years ago and it was "brutal" because it hurts like heck and makes the QB wonder if he's damaging his arm for good.  --Bruce Feldman,

Some encouraging news though, I dug around and it turns out that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers played with this type of injury last season. Granted, he's already in the NFL, but it is interesting to see that Big Ben was playing the week after the injury, despite being limited in practice:

"Ben is still nursing the sore shoulder," Tomlin began. "He could be limited here in the first part of the week. Hopefully, he progresses like he did last week. I just met with him, and he said he feels better this week than he did a week ago, which is good."

Roethlisberger did not practice last Wednesday, and he was limited Thursday to handing the ball off in practice. He practiced and threw gingerly on Friday. He played Sunday night in Cleveland and threw at least one pass 60 yards in the air, another 50 or so and completed 12 of 19 for 186 yards and a 113.0 passer rating, boosting his rating to 136.3, which leads the NFL.

Other quarterbacks who have had the injury have had longer recovery times:  Curtis Painter (4 weeks), Marc Bulger (3 weeks), Alex Smith (12 weeks, season). Smith's injury was more debilitating because it was a Grade 3 sprain. Overall, it seems like a common theme is that if Bradford suffered a Grade 1 sprain, he could be back by Miami and probably by Texas. If it's more severe, like a Grade 2 sprain, he may be out until the very end of the season, or perhaps a bowl game. A Grade 3 sprain or worse would likely sideline him for the season.

In any event, I hope they don't rush Bradford back too quickly, and based on how they've treated injured players in the past, I'm guessing they'll keep Bradford out extra weeks rather than cutting his recovery time short.

It turns out that the AC Joint Sprain is a relatively common injury, which isn't surprising since the play that Bradford got injured on didn't seem terribly unusual. Here's a quote from a study of NFL quarterback injuries:

A total of 1534 quarterback injuries were identified with a mean of 18.8 and a median of 6.0 days of playing time lost. The majority of these injuries occurred during a game (83.8%). Passing plays were responsible for 77.4% of all quarterback-related injuries. Shoulder injuries were the second most common injury reported (233 or 15.2%), following closely behind head injuries (15.4%). Direct trauma was responsible for 82.3% of the injuries, with acromioclavicular joint sprains being the most common injury overall (40%). Overuse injuries were responsible for 14% of the injuries, the most common being rotator cuff tendinitis (6.1%) followed by biceps tendinitis (3.5%).

Additionally, the book titled "The Athlete's Shoulder" says that AC Joint Sprains account for about 47-70% of all shoulder injuries in NCAA football athletes. According to the same book, athletes can usually play again in 2 to 6 weeks with a Grade 1 or 2 sprain, and those types of sprains are most common.

The image on the left is taken from this Google Books search result - the book "Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation: A Sport-Specific Approach". It shows the different severity of the grades of AC joint sprains. You can obviously tell that the Type 3 is the most severe, with a complete tear in the muscle tendons around the joint.

Given that these types of injuries seem relatively common, albeit painful, we can hope that Bradford's injury is of the less severe variety and that he'll be back in that 2-6 week time frame.