Damone Clark was looked at as one of the best linebackers in the nation and a top 50 prospect in the 2022 NFL draft. Unfortunately for Clark, it was discovered that he had a herniated disk in his back, which he had spinal fusion surgery on in March to fix the problem.
That knocked Clark down to the fifth round, and the Cowboys selected him with the 176th pick. As expected, many wanted to know more about Clark’s injury, especially since he’s such a talented player.
Will “Skywalker” Steele of A to Z Sports Dallas did just that earlier this week. In an interview with doctor Michael Boothby of the Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Institute in Fort Worth, Texas, Steele asked what would have happened if Clark’s herniated disk had not been discovered.
“One would think that at the level he [Clark] was having it, where it wasn’t super-symptomatic for him playing, one would think that if it wasn’t picked up, it would’ve started to become more symptomatic,” Boothby said. “It wouldn’t have been uber-dangerous for him if the disk had been pushing on the nerve root. Because, remember, that’s different than his spinal cord.
“When something pushes on the spinal cord, that can be dangerous. But, when the disk is pushing on one of the peripheral nerves -other than it hurting like crazy and giving him a lot of symptoms- it’s not as dangerous. If it’s left untreated when he has those symptoms, then the concern is that those symptoms can become permanent. And that’s what they’re trying to avoid.”
Boothby went on to talk about how if Clark was dealing with spinal stenosis it would have been a more dangerous injury because it would be narrow around his spinal cord. Fortunately, Boothby doesn’t see that being the case for Clark.
“We’re dealing with a disk herniation, we’re not dealing with necessarily stenosis around the spinal cord, itself,” Boothby said. “Which is obviously a ton better news and a ton better prognosis for him coming back to play.”
Clark has been one of the Cowboys’ most talked-about picks since the draft. Obviously, his talent speaks for itself, but it’s the anticipation for when Clark will see the field and help a defensive unit that was one of the best of its kind in the last season that has people buzzing.
Boothby spoke about when to expect a return to the field for Clark, and his answer should garner some optimism.
“In terms of return to play, it’s somewhat of a broad window,” Boothby said. “And the reason is is because the bone has to heal back together. And that fusion has to be firm and tight around the disk herniation before you can allow contact. Or else, it would slow down and risk not healing at the bony level, which would be lousy for everybody.
“That window is anywhere from 6-12 months for a contact athlete…. I think there is some good optimism in terms of ‘Hey, if everything rolls out just perfect and these are elite athletes getting [an] elite level of care, and we do get bony fusion,’ then yea, maybe you’re looking at kind of a midseason deal, starting sports specific activities sometime in September, say, and kind of a return before the end of the year.
“But everything’s gotta go just right at that point and there may be some delay, there. And it may be the entire year if he’s not progressing how they want to see him progressing.”
So there you have it, an in-depth prognosis of where Clark stands in terms of his recovery. The excitement for what Clark can bring to the Cowboys’ defense is understandable. However, the most important thing is Clark’s health, and the Cowboys will certainly take all the precautions to make sure he’s ready in every way before he hits the field.
Whether it’s midseason or in 2023, Clark will be a significant addition to a talented linebacker room, and could very well end up being the steal of the 2022 NFL draft.
Feature image via SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network / USA TODAY NETWORK