Speaking from the NFL owners meetings in Palm Beach, Florida, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy insisted his medical staff will remain cautious with safety Nick Collins, who missed all but two games last season after suffering a career-threatening neck injury.
ESPN Milwaukee's Jason Wilde spoke with McCarthy briefly.
"Dr. Pat McKenzie and our medical staff, they're conservative by nature," McCarthy told Wilde, who then tweeted the comments. "We're not going to put [Nick Collins] in harm's way. If he's on the field, he'll be cleared, he'll be 100 percent, everyone will be comfortable."
Collins, who went to three straight Pro Bowls from 2008-10, injured his neck during the Packers' Week 2 win over the Carolina Panthers while attempting to make a tackle on running back Jonathan Stewart. He was stretchered off the field but had movement in all his extremities. Days later, the Packers announced Collins would miss the rest of the 2011 season.
He later underwent cervical fusion surgery on his neck to repair a bulging disc between his C3 and C4 vertebrae, which was the only option for Collins if he planned on giving himself a chance to play football again. The surgery is also the same one that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning underwent that caused him to miss the 2011 season.
According to McCarthy, "If Nick was my son, I would not let him play."
While not exactly a ringing endorsement for Collins, the burden first lies with Dr. McKenzie and his staff, who will either clear or not clear the 28-year-old safety, and if Collins does receive said clearance, it will be on him to ultimately decide if he wants to risk playing in the NFL again.
That will likely be a difficult decision for Collins, especially if you consider the difficulty defensive backs have had coming back from cervical fusion surgery.
According to Dr. Wellington K. Hsu, who released a study in 2010 on cervical disk herniations (CDHs), nearly three out of four NFL players who undergo the surgery return to play football. Among defensive backs, however, just six of the 12 treated with surgery returned to play, and their football lifespan upon returning was significantly shorter than other positions.
“The defensive back is a unique position on the field,” Dr. Hsu said about the difficulties for defensive backs, including safeties. “They’re tackling players who are 60 pounds to 70 pounds heavier than they are; they may be more sensitive to subtleties in range of motion in the neck than other positions. They’re among the most athletic players on the field and could be more attuned to changes after surgery than other positions.”
Collins has said all along that he wants to have a decision made in time for the Packers to react, which means the wheels should start spinning on the process somewhat soon. A doctor's visit, which Collins has said will be in the next week or two, is the first step in a long line of choices and decisions that will determine whether or not Collins plays again in the NFL.
McCarthy ultimately said, via Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, that it will be a black and white issue on whether or not Collins does in fact play again.
"I'll tell you what (team physician) Dr. Pat McKenzie told me: It's something that they feel very good about based on the last exam, and if he has a good chance just based on the way he's progressing, but you don't know," McCarthy said. "He said it's either yes or no."
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