Chris Johnson was once the most dynamic running back in the NFL. Now, following his move from the Tennessee Titans to the New York Jets, he's hoping cutting-edge medical treatment can help him return to those previous levels of production and extend his career.
Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB reports Johnson underwent stem-cell treatment as part of his recovery from an injury to his left knee. Dr. James Andrews, who's well known for his work with athletes across the sports spectrum, handled the procedure.
What level of play do you expect from Johnson in 2014?
The three-time Pro Bowl ball-carrier explained he suffered meniscus damage in Week 3 last season, but he decided to fight through the injury. While he ended up playing in all 16 games, he certainly didn't look like the player Titans fans once knew.
At 28, he's entering a period when most running backs begin to fade due to the cumulative damage after years of absorbing hits and general fatigue. Johnson hopes the treatment can help him avoid that drop-off.
"When I tore my meniscus and played the season out, through the wear and tear, I lost a lot of cartilage," he told Vrentas. "When you put the stem cells in, it might be able to help rebuild that cartilage in your knee. Hopefully, it makes your knee better for even more years."
Vrentas also spoke with Andrews, who states there are still question marks surrounding the benefits of the treatments. Still, he's trying to help the research pick up steam stateside so players won't have to keep going to Europe or elsewhere, making it unclear exactly what they're being provided with.
Ultimately, his hope is combining the stem-cell treatments with normal recovery methods like surgery can further accelerate how quickly athletes get back in the game.
"Instead of taking a year, a year and a half in order to get well, maybe we can cut that down in half," he said. "We have an old saying: 'You can't bargain with Mother Nature.' The biologics, the stem-cell therapy, is the revelation that may change that."
If Johnson can showcase the form that allowed him to rush for more than 2,000 yards en route to being named the AP Offensive Player of the Year in 2009, perhaps Andrews' wish will begin to take shape.
The returns are promising so far. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News pegged Johnson as one of the standout players early in Jets training camp:
Two impressive starts at Jets camp today: Eric Decker, who caught everything in sight, and Chris Johnson, who looked explosive. #nyj— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) July 25, 2014
Ultimately, he may never return to the game-breaker level at which he performed during his peak seasons with the Titans. But if he's able to bounce back after a frustrating 2013 and potentially extend his career without any further problems with his left knee, the treatment will be considered a success.
It's going to take some time to make any real judgments. There's a major difference between looking explosive in practice and holding up over 16 games. That will be the true test for Johnson's rejuvenated left knee.
The medical world is constantly evolving. Johnson will be a test case for how far the understanding of stem cells has come and how much work is left to do.