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Yesterday, Carolina Panthers' beat writer Joe Person tweeted that Ron Rivera "wouldn't say if [Jonathan Stewart would] be ready for the start of camp" at the end of July. While Rivera could be implying that Stewart may still be ready for the start of camp, I think it's more likely that Rivera hasn't been given a timetable on Stewart's return.
And after taking a closer look into Stewart's own comments and rehab timeline, there may be more to Stewart's situation than has been reported.
Here's the timeline:
November 26: Stewart sprains right ankle (same injury that limited him earlier in the season) in first half of a game against Philadelphia, then suffers a high ankle sprain of his left ankle in the second half. He misses the final five games of the season.
January 12: Stewart tweets that he "had my left ankle scoped yesterday to clean up some stuff so now my recovery from my injury early on in the season will rehab just fine."
February 18: Stewart tweets that his "second scope went good today." Subsequent comments from Stewart and Rivera confirm that this procedure was on his right ankle.
June 11: Stewart is reportedly not close to being ready to participate in minicamp. When asked, general manager Dave Gettleman would only say that "time will tell" when asked if Stewart would be ready for camp.
July 11: Rivera remains unwilling to put a timeframe on Stewart's return.
Very little has been reported about Stewart's February right ankle surgery, but the assumption seems to be that the January left ankle surgery was meant to resolve residual problems related to the November high ankle sprain. That's a logical suggestion. But there are some holes in that assumption.
First, orthopedic surgeons may use a scope to diagnosis tears and instability in the syndesmosis (the ligament injured in a high ankle sprain) but they do not repair those injuries arthroscopically. Second, the vast majority of players recover well enough to be cleared for full activity within 16 weeks of surgery to fix syndesmotic injuries. Stewart has been rehabbing for 20 weeks -- after his February surgery. He'll be more than six months removed from his January surgery at the start of training camp on July 25. And Stewart's second procedure was on the opposite ankle and unrelated to the high ankle sprain of his left ankle.
The procedure that most fits Stewart's situation -- arthroscopic surgery to "clean up some stuff" -- is cartilage related. That could include removal of some irritated or loose cartilage fragments, shaving down bone spurs or addressing any areas of impingement in the joint. But those procedures generally are not associated with 5-6 months (or longer) of rehabilitation before clearance to play.
There is an arthroscopic procedure to "clean up" cartilage related issues in ankle joint that is associated with that length of rehabilitation and recovery -- microfracture surgery.
(Follow this link and click on "Arthroscopic Ankle Cartilage Repair" to see a video illustration of this procedure on the website of Carolina team physician and Stewart' surgeon, Dr. Robert Anderson.)
I want to make it clear that I'm speculating about Stewart's condition here. I'm not making a sourced report on this. It is possible that Stewart had a simple removal of some scar tissue or bone spur from both ankles and the Panthers are being extra cautious this offseason. It is possible that the coaching staff and front office personnel have no concerns about Stewart and are being deliberately obtuse about his training camp availability.
But I think it's highly unlikely that the procedure on the left ankle was to surgically fix residual issues from his high ankle sprain. Given Stewart's long history of ankle and Achilles issues, I don't think it's a stretch to wonder if he has a degenerative cartilage condition in one or both ankles. I've said on our live podcast in recent weeks that all evidence points to the 26-year old Stewart having the legs of a 30-year old (or older) running back.
Why do I believe this is important? If Stewart had microfracture surgery, his rehab could stretch to 7-8 months and delay his conditioning and readiness for contact until late in training camp and beyond. It is equally concerning if Stewart had only a minor cartilage repair (i.e. not microfracture) and still isn't ready as camp begins.
Either way, we're not getting the whole story on Stewart. When the story doesn't add up, it rarely has an unexpectedly rosy ending. Adjust your 2013 expectations accordingly until we know where Stewart's next chapter leads.
Follow me on Twitter @JeneBramel for the latest injury news, analysis and commentary. Questions, suggestions and comments are welcome by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.