Johnathan Gray came to the Texas Longhorns as one of the nation’s top running backs. Gray raced through high school defenses like a gazelle on the open plains. He was supposed to transform the running back position at Texas. Now fans are left to wonder if Gray will be a shell of his former self.
Gray’s sophomore season came to an abrupt end on a cold Saturday night against the West Virginia Mountaineers. A ruptured Achilles forced him to watch the rest of the season from the sidelines. Now Gray will attempt to come back from an injury that has altered many football careers.
Charlie Strong reported that Gray and Jordan Hicks – who also tore his Achilles – will be ready to go in the fall.
Should fans still be worried? Even Gray has to have a hint of doubt about what will happen this fall.
The research doesn’t provide a ringing endorsement for football players returning from Achilles injuries. In a study conducted between 1997 and 2002 on NFL players who tore their Achilles, 64 percent returned to the field in less than a year. However, their performance declined each year the player continued to suit up. The study noted:
Of the 31 players who sustained an Achilles tendon rupture, 21 (64%) returned to play in the NFL at an average of 11 months after injury. In the three seasons following their return, those 21 players saw significant decreases in games played and power ratings compared to the three seasons preceding the injury.
Factor in that Gray is a running back – one who relies on his cuts and being shifty around the line of scrimmage – and we may have already seen the best that Gray has to offer.
Texas does have the luxury of having running back depth. Malcolm Brown is flourishing in the Shawn Watson/Joe Wickline offense. During spring practice it was Brown who shined as other players struggled to grasp the new offense. Joe Bergeron will be back, apparently more focused following some time away from the team. Daje Johnson can also relieve some pressure in the backfield by lining up in a multitude of positions. The point is Strong doesn’t need to rush Gray back. He can allow the junior to slowly work his way back into playing shape, and more importantly, trusting his body when he makes a cut or plants on his surgically-repaired foot.
The good news is Gray has maintained a positive attitude throughout the rehab process. He could be seen on the sidelines supporting his teammates both last season and in the spring game. It’s this youthful enthusiasm that will drive Gray in 2014.
I don’t think Longhorn fans can expect anything more than that.