The big news out of Miami Dolphins camp on Thursday — that Ryan Tannehill is “back to 100 percent” from last season’s ACL tear despite not having reconstructive knee surgery — missed the entire point.
Forget the medical debate about whether an anterior cruciate ligament can indeed regenerate or not. Tannehill obviously believes it can based on his aggressive rehabilitation and the ensuing stem cell treatment he underwent. That’s why the quarterback, speaking publicly for the first time since the 2016 season’s end, said this when I asked if the ACL is healed:
“Yeah,” Tannehill answered, “it’s really strong and ready to go.”
Tannehill also spoke about the stem cell procedure that was part of his non-surgical recovery.
“So your blood stream is carrying stem cells to all the injuries you have throughout your bod,” Tannenhill explained. “Your ACL never completely heals because of a lack of blood flow, and so they’re just artificially becoming the blood stream to carry the stem cells to the location.”
And all this is wonderful if you love advancements in medical science. And all this has to be viewed with healthy skepticism if you need to see an actual MRI of Tannehill’s knee to be convinced he’s completely healed.
But if you’re merely interested in football then all this is really kind of moot.
Because no matter how much Tannehill shouts from housetops he’s healed and no matter how annoyed the Dolphins are with questions about Tannehill’s health (a fair amount), the most important thing that matters is how Tannehill plays.
I’m not talking completion percentage or quarterback rating. It’s much more fundamental than that.
This is about determining whether Tannehill can play on instinct without worrying or even thinking about the knee. This is about whether Tannehill can run for a first down on third-and-4 when the opportunity presents itself rather than having to stay in the pocket and wait for a receiver to bust open — something that might or might not happen.
This is about the Dolphins being able to throw read-option plays into the offense every once in a while to upset the defense. This is about Tannehill picking the option to run every once in a while, making him a threat and making the Dolphins harder to defend.
All these things will determine if Tannehill is truly 100 percent healed. But ...
If Tannehill is choosing to go down in a collapsing pocket because contact is a possibility ...
If Tannehill is deciding he’s now exclusively a pocket passer ...
If Tannehill’s dropback or mobility are affected in any way, then we’re going to understand that the quicker recovery road the Dolphins took with their quarterback’s knee was merely a short cut.
And NFL teams and players that take short cuts don’t win championships.
We won’t know how this plays out, however, until the games begin.
Right now, the Dolphins are merely practicing without pads. There is no contact and definitely no touching of Tannehill allowed. They’re basically playing flag football.
So these practices are not the standard by which the decision to avoid surgery will be measured. These practices offer only a glimpse.
And, full disclosure, so far the decision to avoid surgery was correct because Tannehill is by all accounts his old self.
“I’m back in 100 percent and feel totally normal,” Tannehill said.
“I thought he looked the same as the last time I saw him playing,” coach Adam Gase said. “It was a good week for him. He looks good. The only thing that looks different is he’s wearing a knee brace where last year he wasn’t.”
During Thursday’s OTA practice which the Dolphins opened to reporters, Tannehill ran away from pressure. He seemed mobile as ever. He didn’t seem to be any slower than usual and didn’t seem to be favoring the knee.
“I’m fully confident in the knee, and it’s not even in the back of my mind at all,” he said.
That’s good. But it would be wrong to think we thus have our answer and all is well.
Remember that once upon a time the Dolphins traded for Daunte Culpepper and everyone thought he was fully recovered from a major knee injury until the regular season began and teams began chasing him from all angles. And Culpepper, wary of getting hit and re-injured, couldn’t escape because he simply wasn’t as mobile as before.
I’m not saying Tannehill is a latter-day Culpepper. I’m saying the regular season will be the test of how well Tannehill’s knee holds up.
Right now, we just have to take everyone’s word that all is well.
“He doesn’t have any restrictions,” Gase said. “He’s just doing what he always does.”
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero