Right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has begun practicing with the Kansas City Chiefs, the team announced Wednesday.
As you’ll recall, Duvernay-Tardif broke his leg (more specifically, he suffered a fractured fibula) in Week 5 against the Jacksonville Jaguars and was placed on injured reserve. As our in-house medical expert Aaron Borgmann noted immediately afterward, it was possible that this injury might have been a Maisonneuve fracture — a spiral fracture of the upper tibia.
This turned out to be the case.
While this sounded bad, Borgmann noted that because the fibula supports just one-sixth of the body’s weight, it is less impactful to than a fracture to the larger tibia that is alongside it — and while the repair of this injury tends to be more complex, it wouldn’t necessarily require a longer time to recover from it.
In any case, with additional structures involved, the rehabilitation adds complexity, not necessarily time. With additional surgical fixation, the structures that have been damaged are now secure and rehab can at times, depending upon the extent of damage and athlete demands, often proceed quicker here. A famous example of this is Terrell Owens return to the Super Bowl in a mere seven weeks post-injury. Early mobility is key and often much aquatic work is done in order to regain function quickly.
So we knew fairly quickly that it might be possible for Duvernay-Tardif to return to action this season.
Here’s the question: will he?
Under current NFL rules, a player who is on the Week 1 roster and is later placed on injured reserve may return to practice after missing at least eight weeks of the season. Then the team has a three-week window where the player may be involved in team practices, but his presence in practice doesn’t count against the team’s 53-man roster. If the player isn’t made active from injured reserve during this period, he must miss the rest of the season.
While he has not participated in practice before this week, Duvernay-Tardif has done some workouts with the training staff during the last couple of weeks, and the Chiefs now appear confident that he can return at some point during the playoffs.
It is possible that he could made active for this Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders, but given the way the Chiefs have handled returns from significant injuries, this seems quite unlikely; the Chiefs typically want to ease a player into the lineup using more than a week of practice time.
Andy Reid confirmed this in Monday’s media appearance.
“Larry Durvernay-Tardif will practice today,” Reid announced. “He has a three-week window to do that. We’ll just bring him back gradually, and see how he does -- ease him back into playing.”
Should the Chiefs win their game this weekend, the bye week could conceivably be a part of this equation. If Duvernay-Tardif does well in practice this week and next, it’s possible that he could be available for the divisional round — and should the Chiefs make it that far, almost certainly in the conference championship round.
But under the rules, if Duvernay-Tardif is not activated for the conference championship game, he would be unavailable to play in the Super Bowl — again, presuming the Chiefs make it to either game.
This will certainly be a storyline to watch during the next few weeks. You can expect Reid to be asked about it on a daily basis — and that his daily answer will include the phrase “he is making progress.”
Incidentally, Durvernay-Tardif’s return to practice also ends the season of Chiefs rookie safety Armani Watts. Watts was also placed on injured reserve after the Jaguars game, and was also thought to have an injury from which he might recover before season’s end. But since each NFL team may begin the process of returning a player from injured reserve only twice in a season — and the Chiefs have already done this with safety Daniel Sorensen — Watts’ season is now officially over.