Kareem Huggins went down two weeks ago with an ACL injury. This is a tear of the ligament in the middle of the knee which helps stabilize the knee. It is interesting to see that people are commenting on the timetable of his return. This was once a devastating knee injury by which careers were ruined (Terrell Davis, for example). With very prominent players such as Tom Brady and Wes Welker returning to the field in less than a year, it is now expected that players will just be back next year from this injury. I am a little more skeptical.
A big reason I am not convinced is that all ACL injuries are not equal. Often times with an ACL tear, other ligaments are torn or strained. The degree to which the other ligaments are damaged can often determine the recovery potential for the athlete. The most common associated injury is an MCL (medial collateral ligament) strain. Luckily this will often heal without complications and does not hamper recovery. If the athlete has a combined ligamentous tear, or meniscus injury, this can make prognosis worse. Unfortunately, the media report does not often include if other structures are damaged in the knee.
In addition, I do not remember a running back that relies on quick cuts or explosive leg power returning to their pre-injury level of play. NFL running backs have to trust that their legs will propel them in a sudden change of direction situation. The trust that your knee will not give out is one of the hardest aspects of recovery for an athlete with an ACL reconstruction. Some theorize that with more than one ligament out, this is even harder because of the loss of proprioception, or feedback to the brain about where your limb is in space, and the stress on the limb.
Welker has provided hope that athletes can regain this ability, but he is only one example and he had a noncontact injury. If the injury occurs because of a contact injury, a combined injury is more plausible and thus recovery may be affected. This brings me back to Terrell Davis. His injury was a contact injury, he tore both his MCL and ACL, and never really recovered. Here’s hoping that Huggins injury is just an isolated ACL and that he can come back next year, as he was very exciting to watch in preseason and provides a great change of pace back for the Bucs.