It's been a tough two-year stretch for New York Giants 2012 first-round pick David Wilson. The speed running back had trouble staying on the field due to fumbling problems as a rookie and missed the majority of his sophomore season due to a serious injury to his spine.
Now, as his $2.5 million-a-year replacement, Rashad Jennings, takes first-team reps during organized team activities, Wilson continues to be handcuffed by the spinal stenosis he was diagnosed with in October.
Four and a half months after undergoing spinal fusion surgery to repair a herniated disc, Wilson was told by doctors on Wednesday that he still wasn't clear to partake in contact drills, per ESPN.com's Dan Graziano.
Now, that didn't come as a major surprise, but it wasn't the news lots of Giants fans were hoping for.
Wilson kept his head up on Twitter:
And the team's medical staff remains encouraged about his chances of being ready to suit up when training camp gets underway July 21.
"There has been significant progress and healing since David had the fusion," said team doctor Russell Warren, according to Giants.com. "But the reality is it has only been four and one-half months since the surgery. We anticipate that when David is re-evaluated at the start of training camp he will be cleared at that point."
"Everything I got this morning was good news—there was nothing bad or negative," Wilson said, per Giants.com. "I’m very pleased and very blessed for my healing process to continue."
Privately, though, there's still some serious apprehension.
A team source told Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News that there's a realistic possibility Wilson starts the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, and Graziano wrote last month that "no one knows if Wilson will ever play again."
We're talking about a very serious procedure to treat a very serious condition. It's serious, guys.
But health isn't the only part of the battle for Wilson, who still had fewer than 60 rushing yards in all five of the games he played in last season and was chained to the bench for a large part of the 2012 campaign.
Even if Wilson does get back on the field, there's no guarantee he'll be his old self. That's a concern because his old self wasn't good enough for oft-disappointed head coach Tom Coughlin.
There's a reason they signed Jennings, who fits Coughlin's offense because he doesn't make a lot of mistakes as a ball-carrier or blocker. The 29-year-old has averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry in three of his four NFL seasons, and during a four-week stretch in the second half of the 2013 season he was probably the best back in the NFL.
|NFL's top rushers, Week 9-12, 2013|
|1. Adrian Peterson||426||4.4||4|
|2. Rashad Jennings||413||5.7||2|
|3. Alfred Morris||405||4.7||1|
|Pro Football Reference|
Jennings has fumbled just three times on 484 career touches and he's a very good receiver out of the backfield.
Essentially, he's not flashy but he gets the job done. That's a quintessential Giant.
Coughlin has already stated that Wilson might be back "in a different capacity," per NJ.com's Jordan Raanan. And that should surprise nobody considering how conservative this team likes to be with young and/or injured players.
Jennings' $2.5 million salary might not sound massive in NFL terms, but nowadays when you pay a running back that kind of money you're hoping he can be a full-time starter. Only 11 players at that devalued position will be paid more than that amount in 2014, according to Spotrac.
And the Giants also have the proven Peyton Hillis, veteran Da'Rel Scott, promising 2013 seventh-round pick Michael Cox as well as 2014 fourth-rounder Andre Williams on the roster. They're covering their tracks. They're prepared for life without Wilson.
So even if he can get healthy, Wilson is probably looking at a change-of-pace role at best this season. If you're still holding out for consistent performances like the one he had against the Saints two years ago in December, you're likely to be let down.