When the news broke on Tuesday that left tackle Tyler Johnstone re-tore the ACL in his right knee during practice, Duck fans could do little else besides shake their heads in disbelief. It’s the latest loss to an offense, which had already lost their best receiver – Bralon Addison – to the same injury in April.
Losing either a No.1 receiver or starting left tackle would have been tough enough to overcome, losing both is going to be more challenging. The timing of Johnstone’s injury raises an important question: Did he push too hard by coming back earlier than he should have? More on that in a bit.
Ironically, Johnstone’s knee injury makes Marcus Mariota’s already fragile knee more vulnerable to injury, as his blind side now looks a lot more enticing to opposing defenders.
Redshirt junior Andre Yruretagoyena will now step in to fill Johnstone’s place at left tackle. Yruretagoyena is an intriguing prospect; although he has never started a game for the Ducks, he got repetitions late in several games last year. More recently this spring he was practicing in every offensive line position except center, proving to be a versatile player.
When Johnstone first tore his ACL in last December’s Alamo Bowl against Texas, Yruretagoyena offered some advice to his reeling teammate. Per Victor Flores of the Daily Emerald: “I just told him, ‘You’ve gotta do the rehab and try to get back. Don’t rush it and you’ll be fine.'”
Unfortunately for Johnstone and the Ducks, it appears that he did rush coming back just enough to re-aggravate an already significant injury. There was no guarantee Johnstone was going to be ready for the beginning of this season anyway, so it came as somewhat of a surprise to see him back in action in early August.
This case can and should become an important lesson for fellow Duck players and coaches. ACL tears are among the most common football injuries and most of the time players can’t do much to avoid them. They can, however, control their rehabilitation and decide when to return to the field. The pros of coming back ahead of schedule are very much outweighed by the cons.
The bottom line is that a player shouldn’t come back when an injury is still healing. If a re-injury occurs when the body isn’t 100 percent, permanent damage to the area is very likely, which can lead to chronic weakness. And, if the perennial injury is to an area as crucial to regular movement as a knee ligament, the odds of succeeding in a sport as physical as football are not in an athlete’s favor.
I’m stressing this because, although Johnstone made this mistake, other players can learn and understand the importance of complete healing. As mentioned before, Addison is in the process of coming back from an ACL tear of his own, and he told the Oregonian’s Andrew Greif earlier this week that, “In my mind, I wanted to be back for the first game.”
Though he wants to acknowledge that Johnstone’s latest injury is a serious reminder of the risks involved with returning too early, Addison appears determined to play this season, but I believe it could be a mistake on his part.
It’s no secret how thin, in terms of experience, the Ducks’ receiving corps is without Addison, but he and the Ducks must not allow this thinking to factor into deciding on a return date. If Addison were to take this year off and focus solely on returning strong for his redshirt junior year, it would put him in a much better position to finish his collegiate career on a high note and improve his NFL draft stock.
This isn’t what people want to hear. The offense could very easily suffer this year and miss out on the College Football Playoff in what will almost surely be Mariota’s final season in Eugene. But, sacrifices have to be made for the greater good. And if Addison is willing, this sacrifice could pay huge dividends to his future career.
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck