Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Ninkovich Shelved Four-To-Six Weeks; Edelman Returns To Patriots' Practice Following Scare

The way Julian Edelman reacted to an apparent foot injury on Tuesday afternoon had to have Patriots' fans feeling a sense of Deja Vu...

...but when iron man defensive end Rob Ninkovich clutched the back of his arm and cradled it like a father would a baby, it gave pause to a fan base that has seen Ninkovich start 102 consecutive games and is, for all intents and purposes, the heart and soul of the New England defense.

Edelman's "injury" turned out to be nothing more than the weird ripping sensation, then the numbness and pins and needles that accompanies soft tissue scarring after foot surgery - returning to practice on Wednesday in shorts and shells, planting hard on the foot.

The full extent of Ninkovich's injury, however, was revealed on an early afternoon MRI, the diagnosis being a torn right triceps muscle that will sideline the 32-year-old defensive end from four-to-six weeks - thanks to the fact that the tendon holding the muscle to the bone did not rupture, meaning that Ninkovich will avoid surgery.

The triceps is actually a large muscle on the back of the arm that stabilizes range of motion between the shoulder and the elbow, attached to the top of the humerus bone in the upper arm by two tendons and to the elbow by a single, larger tendon.  Had any one of these tendons ruptured, the Purdue product would be looking at the season-ending IR.

Fortunately, the injury doesn't not involve those tendons - good news, indeed, as the procedure to re-attach the tendon to the bone puts the timetable for his return anywhere from the end of preseason to the second or third weeks of the regular season.

Generally, a triceps tear is a season-ending injury, but with the time table for return being what it is, it is apparent that his injury is on par for what referred to as a Grade 2 strain, which is normally treated with ice and compression initially, then with physical therapy to regain range of motion.

Doesn't really sound like a reason for you or I to call out from work, but to a professional football player who depends on sheer, raw strength - particularly for a defensive end who is adept at setting the hard edge in the running game - the injury would leave him at a distinct disadvantage on the field...

...and it's not as if there is any shortage of depth options, with the likes of veteran edge defenders Chris Long and Shea McClellin to fill the void -not to mention second-year draftees Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers - but to simply state that is to devalue the intangibles that Ninkovich brings to the field.

Entering his 11th NFL season, Ninkovich is the Patriots' leader in sacks since he assumed the strong side defensive end position in the 2011 season with 31 in that time span, leading the team in sacks during the 2012 and 2014 - but his real contribution has been his instincts and feel for the edge, where he knows when to pull up from his pass rush to blow up screen plays before they ever get started and to set the hard edge, redirecting running backs to the inside where the big bodies await.

Not everyone can do that - not Chandler Jones, who was more celebrated than Ninkovich during his time with the Patriots, who racked up sack numbers but never seemed to catch on as an edge setter and consistently was pushed aside and sealed off in the screen game.  Ninkovich has been, by far, the most consistent edge defender during the current decade, and was primed to match weakside end Jaball Sheard to give New England their best and most consistent edge play in years...

...and they still may, depending on how much range of motion Ninkovich gains back in physical therapy, and also considering how much, if any, weakness is present in the affected area,

But these are questions for September - and while there is plenty of depth to cover the strong side edge, it remains to be seen if any of those options can match the intensity, instincts and power that Ninkovich brings to the position.

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