There’s breaking news on two of the top Big Ten quarterbacks, so let’s jump right in:
Wilton Speight, QB, Michigan
“Breaking news” isn’t a good pun for Wilton Speight. The Michigan quarterback not only took a heartbreaking loss against Iowa, reports (first by Ace Anbender) indicate he suffered a broken collarbone during the game.
Jim Harbaugh called Speight a “game-time decision” for this week’s game against Indiana earlier Monday. If the reports are accurate, that means Harbaugh would simply be putting off the decision until then.
Speight could have surgery to fixate the collarbone, but it wouldn’t accelerate the timeline significantly. In the procedure, the collarbone is fixated with a “plate,” a small piece of metal that is screwed in on either side of the fracture and along the length of the plate, which is custom molded to the bone. It doesn’t add much strength to the bone, but it holds the bone in the proper place.
Surgery won’t mean more than a week off the return time, if that. The benefit of plating is that the healing takes place in alignment and usually functions better. The plate is often taken out at a later date, but can be left in as well, especially in the short term. Surgery does pose an infection risk. And depending on which side the injury is on, it could affect his throwing motion.
Some are suggesting that, because the injury is on Speight’s non-throwing side and he played a series with it, he could return quickly. That’s not true. The worry is less about throwing and more about landing. Quarterbacks actually land on the non-throwing shoulder/side about as often as the throwing side. It’s also involved in the throwing motion.
Speight playing a series hurt is a testament to his pain tolerance more than a misdiagnosis by the medical staff. They don’t have X-ray vision and couldn’t have seen any misalignment of the bone, indicating fracture, with the shoulder pads in place. Typically, it’s almost impossible for someone with a fractured collarbone to move the affected side’s arm away from a guarded position. So Speight had some serious pain tolerance — or a lot of adrenaline.
The best-case scenario for a return is four-to-six weeks. The short end of the range could put him in discussion for the Big Ten Championship game on Dec. 3. But that would a very aggressive timeframe regardless of the surgical decision. A bowl game in January is much more plausible. But the Wolverines have to get past Indiana and Ohio State before they can really think about how much it would mean to have Speight back.
Tommy Armstrong Jr., QB, Nebraska
A lot of people have been asking me how Tommy Armstrong Jr. came back last week, and how the Nebraska staff played him.
There’s a very simple answer to this one: He was cleared.
There’s a lot we don’t know about concussions. But one of the things that most don’t know is that most short-term symptoms clear up in the short term. What the medical staffs are dealing with are symptoms. Absent headaches, nausea, dizziness, vision issues and the other clear short-term signs of a concussion, a player is deemed to have healed.
That’s not to minimize the long-term consequences at all. The problem is, we know even less about those, other than in some cases the consequences are devastating. I remember former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski telling me he’d had 30 or 40 concussions in his career. But he remains, 10 years after I first heard the story, one of the sharpest minds in the football media. Then there’s Chris Henry, the former NFL receiver who had no diagnosed concussions, yet an autopsy after he died falling off a truck found he had CTE.
So Armstrong was symptom-free in the short term, despite a violent collision and trauma that included a period of unconsciousness. It’s a lesson that it is impossible to judge the severity of a concussion until it has healed. It’s not the impact, but the result of the impact and the brain’s ability to heal itself from discernible symptoms that are key.
Armstrong performing well after being cleared isn’t all that interesting. But he did suffer a couple injuries, which could relate back to the concussion. It’s hard to say that a brain injury led to a hamstring injury and a minor ankle sprain. But what if Armstrong’s coordination was just a bit off? What if he didn’t run quite as well or have his normal balance? Those are questions that are tough for researchers to answer, but there’s some interesting anecdotal cases like this one.
Armstrong is listed as day-to-day, according to coach Mike Riley. With Senior Day coming up, it’s hard to imagine that Armstrong won’t play if at all possible. The Huskers may want to limit his time on field against Maryland, but they are in position for a significant bowl berth and even a shot at the Big Ten title game.