Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley and running back J.K. Dobbins are expected to return the Ravens’ running game to prominence, but when they get back into the starting lineup is still uncertain.
Stanley is recovering from an ankle injury that has kept him out of 29 of the Ravens’ past 30 games, while Dobbins has been sidelined since suffering a torn ACL, LCL and meniscus in his left knee, along with his hamstring, in the 2021 preseason finale. Few can predict if they will be as dominant as they were before their injuries.
It’s a toss-up.
“There is a big difference between walking on these injured joints and going back to running and doing what is expected of an NFL athlete,” said Scott Adams, a Catonsville-based orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine.
“So simply seeing them being able to walk to the media room or go through a walkthrough practice is in no way an indication that they are 100% healed.”
That pretty much sums up the status of Stanley and Dobbins, as well as the Ravens’ running game, which is ranked No. 18 in the league through two games but would be near the bottom if not for star quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Dobbins practiced fully leading up to Sunday’s home opener against the Miami Dolphins and said he felt “amazing,” but he was inactive for the game.
Before his injury, Stanley was regarded as one of the top young tackles in the league, signing a five-year, $112.8 million contract on Oct. 30, 2020. But he suffered a severe ankle injury just a few days later against the Pittsburgh Steelers and has played in just one game — the 2021 season opener against the Las Vegas Raiders — since.
Early in his coaching career in Baltimore, John Harbaugh was aggressive in pushing players to return to the field, which resulted in disagreements with trainers. But after a rash of injuries to several starters last season, Harbaugh is probably more cautious. This offseason, the team overhauled its training camp practice routine and hired a new head athletic trainer in an effort to reduce injuries.
Holding out Stanley and Dobbins early in the season is the smart thing to do.
“By far the biggest challenge after one of these severe injuries in such an elite athlete is getting that additional explosiveness and skill to come back,” Adams said. “There have been a lot of examples where athletes have been able to do it, but statistics tell us that not everyone is able to come back 100%.
“But the surgery gives them a much better chance at doing so [than] if you didn’t fix it surgically. So, you are going to need patience.”
Dobbins has a better chance to return sooner than Stanley. Nearly a decade ago, it took two years to recover from knee injuries, which forced a lot of players in the twilight of their careers to retire.
The rehabilitation process is much different now.
“There are a couple of big advances to make these injuries recover quicker,” Adams said. “One is the rehabilitation afterward, where we’ve seen improvements in being able to more rapidly advance the therapy. Athletes are running sooner, getting stronger faster and can do what is called an accelerated rehabilitation program. That can significantly shorten the recovery time.
“We have more solid fixation methods and we have more predictable ways of fixing injuries in the knee. We also know they can use the knee sooner than we used to think 10 years ago.”
There is a lot of optimism around Dobbins. He has been eager to return since training camp opened in late July. As a rookie, he gained 805 yards on 134 carries and scored nine touchdowns.
He had that rare combination of speed and power. He wasn’t a home run hitter, but he could still gain big chunks of yardage. His one-cut, downhill style was perfect for the Ravens’ offense.
After his injury last season, the Ravens brought in veterans like Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray and Le’Veon Bell, none of whom are still on active NFL rosters. This year, they’ve relied on Kenyan Drake, Mike Davis and Justice Hill, who have the fewest rushing yards (74) of any running back group in the NFL.
It’s clear Dobbins is cut above his replacements. The question is, can he return to his old form?
“For Dobbins, once the knee is stable, his strength and range of motion is back to where it was before the surgery and he satisfies the return to play criteria, I think he can get back to where he was before the injury,” Adams said.
“Again, there are a number of NFL running backs who have proven that to be the case, but unfortunately there are some who have shown that they just can’t get back to 100%,” Adams said.
Stanley’s situation is different because of the length and nature of the recovery process. The former Notre Dame standout, whom the Ravens chose No. 6 overall in the 2016 draft, has had three surgeries on his left ankle since the initial injury.
He is also 6 feet 6 and 315 pounds, which puts a lot of pressure on a joint.
“Stanley is a large man and he puts a lot of weight and force across a relatively small joint, and so that does increase the challenge of making a full recovery for a number of reasons,” Adams said.
“Stanley is a challenging case now that this has gone on for a couple of years and he has had more than one surgery. The reality with him is still to be determined. Clearly the ankle is not fully recovered, or he would be out there playing. The longer that it takes for him to get back, the less predictable that full return is going to be.”
So, all the Ravens can do is wait and hope.
If they had a decent running game, they might have been able to keep the Miami Dolphins’ offense off the field in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s disastrous 42-38 loss.
If they had Dobbins or Stanley, they might have been able to convert two crucial fourth downs. But right now, the Ravens can only be patient.
There is little else they can do.
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Ch. 45
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 2 1/2
Soruce : https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/09/22/mike-preston-can-ravens-ronnie-stanley-and-j-k-dobbins-dominate-again-heres-a-doctors-take-commentary/