Tom Coughlin is frustrated, Domenik Hixon is worried and Terrell Thomas' season is in jeopardy. Those feelings and developments have one common denominator: the anterior cruciate ligament, a complex, intermingled piece of fibrous tissue that is capable of ruining careers faster than a voicemail from Mel Gibson.
Every NFL team feels the wrath of ACL damage on an annual basis. While the long-term effects of concussions are arguably (definitely?) the most daunting, torn knee ligaments do more short-term damage to players and teams than any injury in the sport.
In 2010, a study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that only 63 percent of players return following ACL reconstruction (via Blogging the Boys, which also concluded that about one third of all players on injured reserve over a four-year span landed there as a result of a knee injury).
Yet what's really grinding Coughlin's gears is the number of times his players have suffered from recurring ACL tears.
"I would like to know what the medical answer is," Coughlin said Wednesday, per ESPN.com's Ohm Youngmisuk. "What's the story with a repeated ACL and where the ligament comes from in terms of the projections going forward because we have had a couple of these."
We're still awaiting the verdict on Thomas, but all signs point to the ACL again. If so, it'll mark the third time the veteran corner has suffered said injury in his playing career. And as Youngmisuk points out, Domenik Hixon, Clint Sintim and Brian Witherspoon have all torn the same ligament in consecutive years while wearing blue, red, white and gray.
(Jonathan Goff, who's now with the Redskins but missed 2011 in New York with a torn ACL, experienced déjà vu in Washington this week.)
Generally, a torn ACL keeps a pro athlete out between six months and year. I'm not a doctor yet and I've yet to blow out my knee, but I can offer volumes of second-hand anecdotal evidence that indicates how demanding and arduous the rehabilitation process is. It's long and emotional and those who fight hard enough to return are superheroes.
That's why it's so tough to see it happen to the same men time and again. Hixon's been there, and he feels terribly for Thomas. On top of that, though, you get the sense that he's terrified he'll join the Triple ACL Tear Club, too. And if that happens, there's a chance he'll have to walk away from his life's work.
"I'd lie to you if I said it didn't (worry me)," Hixon said Wednesday, per the New York Daily News. "Just because he was working hard at coming back. A lot of things he was doing, I was doing."
Should teams consider holding players with ACL tears out for two seasons?
So what is the medical answer Coughlin's searching for? He—and surely more than a few athletic trainers—wants to know what his staff can do to better prevent repeat tears. But until medical science hits a ligament-reinforcement jackpot, it seems the solution might be one of the few things pro football players don't have: time.
Commenting on a recent post of mine, Giants fan Paul Donefsky suggested that teams simply start sitting ACL victims for two years, rather than one. I don't know if that would help, but it certainly wouldn't hurt, and it's something Hixon touched on in his media session this week.
The problem, of course, is that in an industry in which the average career lasts 3.3 years and in which the make-as-much-money-as-quickly-as-possible philosophy is ubiquitous, it's pretty much impossible to envision players—or even teams—possessing such patience.
So you have to either wait out an extra long rehab process or simply roll the dice while waiting for a medical breakthrough.
The common denominator, this time, is waiting.