So the bad news on Monday was that Tony Conner, a preseason All-American who's blend of speed, instincts and tackling acumen makes him the Platonic Ideal of the husky position in Ole Miss' 4-2-5 defense, suffered a torn meniscus against Alabama. He went under the knife on Tuesday and, according to Hugh Freeze, will miss a minimum of four weeks.
Freeze reiterated that timeline on Wednesday, curbing fears that complications arose during Tuesday's procedure.
"Docs felt really good about it," Freeze told the Ole Miss Spirit. "I said earlier minimum of four weeks. That's accurate."
If you're like me and the extent of your medical knowledge comes from ER reruns and ESPN articles on Dr. James Andrews, you had a rush of questions when you heard that news. What exactly is a meniscus and why the hell do you need it to play football? If four weeks is the minimum recovery period, what's the maximum? Is this an injury that could affect Conner's play after his return?
To help answer those queries, I got on the phone with Wayne Jimenez, a physical therapist at Medicomp in Jackson, Miss. with 36 years of experience treating high school, college and professional footballers who.
As a disclaimer, Jimenez doesn't know the details of Conner's specific injury and is speaking generally about meniscus tears.
What does a meniscus do and how does it get torn?
There are actual two meniscuses in each knee, the lateral and the medial (Freeze didn't say which one Conner tore, but the medial tear is the more common injury). They're C-shaped bits of cartilage between the femur and tibia that essentially serve as shock absorbers in the knee. They also provide stability while cutting, twisting, jumping and other things you might do during a football game.
As Jimenez explained, a tear can happen from either traumatic force or a non-contact pivot. My guess for Conner is that it happened on this fourth-quarter play:
How long is the typical recovery period?
That depends on the type and degree of the tear.
Image via Brisbane Knee and Shoulder Clinic
For a minor injury like a peripheral tear, "they they go in and scope it and trim it and you're good to go" in 2-3 weeks. The longer recoveries, assuming it's just a meniscal tear with no add-ons like a ligament strain or a micro fracture, are between 4-6 weeks.
Freeze didn't indicate what type of tear Conner has, but, according to Jimenez, "If it's a four week injury, you can best believe it's not a little snip and trim, it's a little more involved." When I asked him what the likely worst case scenario for Conner is, he said six weeks.
One thing to keep in mind with Conner is that he has an NFL future to protect, which means the training staff willl probably err on the side of caution when determining when he's ready to roll. Last season it was widely reported that Jadeveon Clowney was ready to return after six weeks, but the Houston Texans, in no rush to risk the longterm health of their No. 1 pick, sat him for another couple of weeks to play it safe.
Get to the point. What are the best and worst case scenarios?
In an ideal world, Conner will miss the four-game minimum and be back, fully healthy and ready to ball, in time for an Oct. 24 showdown with Texas A&M. With A.J. Moore and Zedrick Woods filling in at the husky spot, the Rebel defense barely notices Conner's absence against Vandy, Florida, New Mexico State and Memphis.
On the the not-so-bright side, Conner ends up missing six games. Without his speed and tackling ability on the edge, the Rebs struggle to contain the spread rushing attacks of A&M and Auburn (the former being much more likely than the latter at this point). He's still a bit gimpy when he returns against Arkansas on Nov. 7, and his snaps against the Hogs' power offense are significantly curtailed. Ole Miss finally gets its bye in Week 11, which should at least ensure that Conner is healthy heading into the final two-game stretch against LSU and State.