Commentary

Dallas Clark, Austin Collie are healthy

Updated: August 19, 2011, 11:04 AM ET
By Stephania Bell | ESPN.com

Regardless of his neck, will Peyton Manning's weapons be healthy this season?

It's true. Peyton Manning was but a figment of my imagination during my brief visit to Colts camp. The word on campus (literally, since the Colts hold their training camp on a college campus in Anderson, Ind.) was Manning was working diligently with the medical staff while the team conducted practice and he was not speaking with the media. Too bad.

32 Questions

Or perhaps not so bad after all.

Instead, I had the opportunity to chat with two guys who are household names when it comes to fantasy football, both of whom dealt with major, season-ending injuries in 2010.

Dallas Clark's season ended prematurely with a significant wrist injury that would end up requiring ligament reconstructive surgery followed by three months in a cast. That was followed by a lengthy and, at times, frustratingly slow rehabilitation process, but Clark now feels he has returned to health and is eager to get the season underway.

"My wrist feels really good. I'm optimistic, excited about how it's doing," Clark told me. When I noted the protective wrap he was wearing during contact practice, Clark acknowledged that somewhat reluctantly, he will be wearing the brace throughout the year. "I'm not a big fan of wearing a brace, but it's one of those things where it doesn't inhibit me from doing what I need to do, which is exciting." Clark noted that the brace doesn't keep him from catching the ball and, he cleverly added, "It doesn't make me run slower." Doctors say the time frame is approximately one year for full recovery (October will mark the one-year anniversary), so the brace essentially provides some additional protection, but Clark is free to participate in all activities, no restrictions. "We've had several padded practices and I'm going full speed -- blocking, catching, getting tackled -- and it feels great," Clark said.

[+] EnlargeDallas Clark
Brett Davis/US PresswireDallas Clark finished as the No. 2 tight end in fantasy in 2008 and 2009. A wrist injury cost him the final 10 games of last season.

It didn't always feel so good. Clark described the process as challenging for someone like him who likes to immediately see the results of hard work. Regaining range of motion in the wrist after being in a postsurgical cast for three months was painstakingly slow. "I'd have a week where it would be really good, then a couple weeks of ups and downs," Clark said. "It just took time. Some days I would get frustrated but then the next day I'd feel great." He is quick to credit his surgeon (Dr. Thomas Weidrich, a hand surgeon in Chicago who also serves as a consultant for the Chicago Bears and Blackhawks) and his physical therapist (Keith Kocher, who practices in Arizona). With the lockout in place, Clark, like many others coming off surgery, had to travel to seek treatment. "It was not a good time to be needing offseason rehab," Clark noted. "But Dr. Weidrich mentioned Keith Kocher and he really understands the wrist. So I took my family out to Arizona and we were there for two months." Apparently it was well worth it. "[Kocher] was phenomenal," Clark said. "I have had literally the best hand surgeon and the best therapist. I can't thank them enough."

It certainly appears as if Clark is getting back in the groove of football. Despite not having Manning to throw to him, he was a regular target for Curtis Painter in the practice I witnessed and seemed to have no issues catching the ball or protecting the ball or in pass protection situations. All encouraging news for fantasy owners, right? Although Clark says he "doesn't pay attention" to fantasy, he does admit shyly, when pressed, that he has heard he's a popular choice. So I asked him if he thought he still should be this year. Clark told me he hopes to "step right back into his role and help the Colts win games." Well, if that's the case, he should be helping fantasy owners win games, too.

Austin Collie's concussion episodes were etched into the memory of everyone who saw him being carted off the field on a stretcher last season, a sight that has some wondering whether he should be returning to play. He has been asked the question many times and has reiterated that he has medical clearance to return and he is looking forward to taking the field again this fall. When I attended Colts camp this week, Collie had just been officially listed on the depth chart as a member of the first team wide receiver corps, indicating the team also believes he is ready to go.

So how did he get back to football? Contrary to the image most may have of athletes sitting idle in darkened rooms post-concussion, waiting for their brains to recover so they can return to function, Collie engaged in active rehabilitation for his brain, just as Clark did for his wrist. It is an area of medicine that is still evolving but recent clinical data suggests the brain, like any other injured body part, requires rest initially then benefits from exercise to help restore function. "I think the main thing as far as a rehab point is keeping your mind sharp, " Collie said. "I think a lot of people have a tendency to lay low for a while. I did a little bit of that after the season but then got started activating the brain."

Collie described some of the specific exercises he has been doing. "Mainly I've been trying to keep my mind sharp, doing different types of visual exercises" Collie said. For instance, he will sit facing a wall with someone standing just behind him. That person tosses a tennis ball against the wall and Collie has to react and catch it. "It gives you just a split second to catch the ball," Collie said. That type of task works on reaction time and coordination of visual and motor function, often affected by concussion injury. Those skills are critical for any athlete, but the particular impact for a receiver is easy to appreciate.

An interesting side note: Collie's mother is a physical therapist. Given the lockout situation and the need to independently seek rehabilitation options away from the team, Collie indicated his mother was helpful in connecting him with various therapists who could help guide his progress and help him understand his recovery. How does she feel about him returning to football? "As any mom would, she wants the best for me and the best for my health," Collie said, "but she also understands the football side of it."

Speaking of football activities, returning to regular practice represents a higher level step in terms of Collie's recovery. He insists that it's just like old times. "I really don't notice a difference as far as my reaction time or how I see the field," he said. "It's clear as day. I feel healthy. I feel ready. I'm looking forward to getting the season going."

Although he doesn't play fantasy football, he knows that those who do are curious as to whether he can deliver fantasy goodness this year. "I promise," Collie said. "Don't let the concussions fool you."

Stephania is a physical therapist who is a Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. She is a clinician, author and teacher with extensive experience in the area of orthopedic manual therapy and sports medicine. Follow her blog here.