Shane Ray is a great guy, and if you’ve read our interviews with him, you know this to be true. We at DBZ are pulling for him; however, after speaking with an orthopedic surgeon about his wrist injury, his odds of playing at 100% aren’t great.
Last season, without him as the bookend to Von Miller, our defense took a hit. Sure, we were in the top five in some categories, but in others, we were mid-pack or worse. While drafting Bradley Chubb was a jackpot, having three pass rushers would help the entire defense. I’ve written about this before, Ray is/was instrumental to our defense functioning at its best.
Unfortunately, the events that happened last Spring could derail that. Denver fans should prepare that our defense may look like it did in 2017: good, but not great. However, our offense has to better, so it could be ok.
Ray has a tough comeback trail ahead of him, even tougher than most may think. I am currently in a cast due to a ruptured (severed) tendon and a torn muscle in my left leg, which is why the fantastic doc (who also works on Jaguars players) gave answers. He even went and read what he could on the internet about the injury to Shane.
*to note: what players and teams relay to the media are often told in broad terms or subterfuge is used because they don’t want other teams knowing the true status.
According to the doctor, who obviously doesn’t have Ray’s medical chart, it appears Shane didn’t rupture his tendon as told, but his ligament because according to the linebacker, he has four screws holding things together. Since ligaments hold bone to bone and tendons hold muscle to bone, you don’t screw tendons to a bone. You repair the tendon and allow it to fuse back to the bone and muscle on its own.
Doc also said screws aren’t used (with a ligament) unless the bones in the wrist are broken. Anchor sutures hold the ligaments to the bone. Now, if Ray damaged both the tendon and the ligament and broke the wrist bones, it most likely was not from one push during practice, but separate incidences.
The surgeon also said that the tendon leading into the thumb wouldn’t cause the wrist bones to separate. This leads to some guesses as to what actually occurred.
If Ray just got confused (as most patients do when discussing tendons and ligaments), that it was the ligament that ruptured and needed anchoring to the bones in the wrist, this now becomes an issue of pain management. Which could be the best news.
According to the doc, the fourth surgery that required clean-up because of pain, was most likely about removing scar tissue. Scar tissue build up can create pain and limit mobility. Chances of arthritis are great.
The best prognosis is the tendon wasn’t severed and the clean-up results in no pain. If so, Ray can resume full contact a month or so into the season. Will he be 100%? No, but no NFL player really is. Read farther down as to why.
If the procedure doesn’t end the pain, then Ray is in trouble. Pain means something is wrong and strength is weakened. An outside linebacker can’t perform well if he lacks the power to push/move 300 pound offensive linemen. Wrists take the full brunt force, there’s no way around it. We saw this when Shane returned last season.
His options are twofold; he could have his wrist fused, allowing him to use his hand as a club. The wrist won’t be able to bend, but the hands can grip; however, it will necessitate him learning a new technique. This will allow him to do his job, but beyond football, that hand won’t be able to do much. Doc said this is far from ideal, but is an option for an outside linebacker.
Or, he could switch to the inside, where matching up against OL isn’t issue. Shaquem Griffin has one hand, but his job is to tackle and knock balls down, not go one on one with 300 pounders, pushing them away.
The worst case for Ray is if he did had have two injuries. Lets say, Day one, he tore his ligament which caused the wrist bones to move (or there was already damage done from years of playing and this was the straw to break the back). Day two, he ruptures the tendon because the whole area was unstable. It wouldn’t be the reverse because no tendon means his thumb wouldn’t have been able to move and he’d have known serious damage was done.
If this did happen, especially if there was already issues with the wrist, he won’t be able to come back as he was.
What we can most likely expect is for him never to be 100%. When NFL teams say a player is 100%, that means they’ve healed to being equal to what they were prior to the injury. Wear and tear over years of playing means Ray’s wrist may only have been at 90% before the first surgery, or even worse. Therefor, being 100% could mean 75% healthy from the combine testing.
This is why teams have exit physicals. During the combines, players are evaluated and those results are used against them for the rest of their careers. It’s the ultimate measuring stick. So, when a player leaves one team, his exit physical could show years of damage, and he retires because he knows a new team won’t pass him. Dr Sullivan goes into full detail about injuries here.
This is a lot of talk about trading Ray. Right now, it’s highly doubtful he’d pass an exit physical. Not as an outside linebacker.
Ray had a tough and winding road to make it to college, let alone the pros, but returning to his peak performance will be his biggest challenge, yet. One he may have no control over, he is at the mercy of his body.
The ultimate question is this: can he learn a new way to play the position? While Shaquem Griffin is an inside, not outside, linebacker, he learned how to play without a hand. Maybe Ray could contact the Griffin brothers and ask for help.
Who knows, maybe Shane moves inside, or finds a way to play with a wrist that is less than ideal. Either way, I’m sure he has the drive and determination to find a way. We hope so!