Denver Broncos eight-year veteran linebacker John Mobley, still affected by a neck injury suffered nearly eight months ago, has been advised by a prominent back/neck specialist not to return to the field for the 2004 season.
The diagnosis exacerbates the likelihood that Mobley will never play again.
There have been suspicions for months that Mobley's career was threatened by the bruised spinal cord sustained last Oct. 26 and the prognosis of Los Angeles-based specialist Dr. Robert Watkins, who examined the linebacker, confirmed those fears.
Watkins found that, while Mobley has made significant progress in his rehabilitation, he still has a contusion around his spinal cord.
For now, Mobley remains on the Broncos roster, and coach Mike Shanahan indicated that there will be subsequent tests. Before the latest battery of examinations, Denver officials said doctors had suggested they might not see a change in Mobley's condition until mid-June. Sources close to Mobley acknowledged that, while the former first-rounder wants to resume his career, he has taken a pragmatic approach to the injury.
Mobley was injured in a game at Baltimore when, in attempting to tackle Ravens running back Jamal Lewis, he collided with cornerback Kelly Herndon. Mobley lay motionless on the field for several minutes, but recovered feeling in his extremities fairly quickly, and was able to return to Denver the following day. Tests then revealed the contusion on his spinal cord and he was placed on injured reserve.
"There are some question marks as to exactly where he is physically," Shanahan told the Denver media. "He has made some strides from three months ago, so I can't tell you anything definitive right now."
In the draft, the Broncos bolstered themselves against the possibility that Mobley might not return, using their first-round selection to choose standout linebacker D.J. Williams from the University of Miami. Because of injuries to Mobley and fellow outside 'backer Ian Gold in 2003, the Broncos were forced to play with a pair of youngsters, Donnie Spragan and Jashon Sykes, at the outside spots.
While never selected to the Pro Bowl game, Mobley played much of his career at that level. The former Kutztown (Pa.) State star was the team's first-round choice in the '96 draft and, outside of a 1999 season in which he suffered a severe knee injury and last year, started at least 14 games every season. Mobley, 30, totaled 625 tackles, 10½ sacks, five interceptions, 49 passes defensed and six forced fumbles. He played in 105 games and started 102 of them.
Shanahan also announced that 12-year veteran defensive lineman Marco Coleman has opted to retire and that the club has released journeyman offensive lineman Calvin Collins. Coleman, 34, was signed during the offseason, one of several longtime NFL veterans added to the roster as role players and to provide leadership.
Coleman played in 13 games with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2003. He was a former first-round choice of the Miami Dolphins in 1992. In stints with Miami (1992-95), San Diego (1996-98), Washington (1999-2001), Jacksonville (2002) and Philadelphia (2003), he had 574 tackles, 62½ sacks and 18 forced fumbles.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.