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HUGE BREAK: Early-Than-Anticipated Recovery of Sheldon Rankins is Big Boost to Saints D-Line

Sometimes in the game of life and especially in the sport of Pro Football, it doesn't hurt to have a little luck on your side.

But in the particular case of the New Orleans Saints defense within the past few days, a "huge break" would be the only appropriate term to use to describe just how much good fortune has happened to the franchise, in regards to the near-miraculous and earlier-then-expected recovery from Achilles Tendon surgery of 4th year defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.

By now, most Who Dat fans have since heard about and are well-aware of the fortunate events surrounding the quick healing of Rankins' near-catastrophic injury, which you might recall he had suffered in the 1st quarter of the team's NFC Divisional Playoff Round win over the Philadelphia Eagles at the Superdome this past January.

Photo courtesy of Bill Feig, The Associated Press

While the incredibly-talented 3-technique defensive tackle interior pass-rusher extraordinaire and the team's top draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft nearly 4 years ago isn't expected to see the field just yet when the Black and Gold faces the visiting Houston Texans in their 2019 NFL Season-opening game in less than two weeks on ESPN Monday Night Football (September 9th); it is very likely that he can be ready perhaps as soon as the team's Week #4 contest (Sunday Night, September 29th) at home against the Dallas Cowboys.

During the joint press conference this past Monday afternoon at the team's Training Facility, both Rankins and Saints head coach Sean Payton declined to put a timetable on when Rankins would be ready for game action, which then prompted Payton to tell  reporters that Rankins playing in the Texans game for Week #1 was “unrealistic.” 

Nevertheless. the 6-foot-1 former University of Louisville star will now be eligible to be activated off of the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and eligible to come back at least as soon as Week #7; when the Saints travel to the Windy City (Sunday, October 20th) to face the Chicago Bears.

However as it was noted by The Athletic.com reporter Nick Underhill: the Saints took him off PUP because he needed to be able to start moving laterally and hitting people — with an anticipated return to the starting line-up anytime between Weeks 4 thru 6.

“The feeling was he’ll be ready earlier than six weeks,” Payton said. “... and so I think it’s worth doing what we’re doing now.”

Photo courtesy of Icon Sportswire

The 25-year old Rankins had actually shown up to to the Saints facility Monday thinking that he would receive his daily medical treatment from the team's training staff; and didn't even realize that he'd instead be told that he could begin practicing once again with the 1st-team defense while the team went through a light "walk through" practice session. 

From his own perspective, Payton told reporters that he personally couldn't ever recall seeing an NFL player during his coaching tenure make such a quick turnaround from a torn Achilles tendon. 

"Honestly???" No. I haven't".

But of course, no one was any more amazed than Rankins himself was — and he obviously couldn't hide just how happy he was to have gotten the word when answering questions after Payton had spoken.

(Question): How amazed are you? You suffered the Achilles injury in January and here you are seven months later, you're out there running with the ones and practicing.
“It's by the grace of God, man. Obviously, I'll put it all in his hands and I've had a great support system throughout this entire thing. Family loved ones, this training staff who put me in the right position to be able to progress daily and be able to get back out here and give myself a shot to be able to help this team.”

(Aaron M. Sprecher via AP)

(Question): Going through the process, how difficult is it to kind of be off on your own going through a severe injury?
“Sadly for me, this is not my first time going through a little something serious. It is not foreign to me, but it’s different. You watch your teammates go out here and battle through training camp, throughout OTAs, and in a sense you are isolated a bit. But, if you dwell on that too much, you can lose focus on what is important and for me that was getting better every day and putting myself in a position to get back out here as soon as possible.”

(Question): It’s been a long process, but how do you feel right now movement wise?
"I feel good. I think I'm pleased with where I'm at. Obviously, we'll keep taking it a day at a time, see how things respond, and see how things continue to progress. But, I'm happy with where I am at throughout this entire recovery process. Like I said, I have been able to progress daily and been able to, like I said, put myself in position to be able to get back out here as soon as possible. I think that is a big thing for me, getting back out here, being able to run around, hit some blocks, feel some contact, and play football again.”

(Question): What was the timetable you were working under before though? Did you think you were going to miss those first six weeks?
“There was really no timetable. For us it was about just following protocol, being able to let the Achilles heal the right way first, and then once that comes and then being able to slowly but surely be able to build up strength, flexibility, power, speed, those things. Once we are able to hit certain milestones, then it was about being able to get back out here and play football. No timetable really. Really, it was just about how my body responded to things and my body has responded well so we will just keep progressing as normal."

Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Rankins reiterated before the press conference ended that he has learned how important that it is to not try to attempt pushing any part of the recovery process ahead of schedule. He listened very intently to what doctors had instructed him to do while going through rehab, and slowly noticed that he had already began to regain his strength and flexibility in the torn tendon itself.

But through it all, Rankins kept a positive attitude and said that a main part of his recovery process came from the mental motivation that he used of the indelible image of himself leaving the field stretched out on a cart following the injury against the Eagles, which was first and foremost on his mind. 

“It’s never the way you want to leave a playoff game,” Rankins said sheepishly. “You never want to leave a playoff game period, but for me to go out the way I did last year with the season I was putting together, it definitely didn’t end the way I wanted it to. I think I’ve kept that in the back of my mind throughout this entire recovery process. 

“So being able to attack each day, put myself in position to be back out here in the last week of training camp with my guys, being able to get some quality work in before the season gets started, it’s a beautiful thing. I’m proud of myself, but I’ve still got a long way to go.”

Photo courtesy of Michael DeMocker, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Make no mistake about this much: the rather unexpected and near-miraculous recovery of Rankins will become a tremendous advantage for the Saints defense; and particularly of course for the D-Line; which has received its fair share of criticism recently for a lack of a pass rush at times during the Pre-Season; which comes to an end tomorrow night in their final Pre-Season game at the Superdome against the Miami Dolphins.

Rankins easily is one of the franchise's greatest draft picks ever on the defensive side of the football; and having him back in time for the Black and Gold as they attempt to make another run at getting to the Super Bowl — the very same Super Bowl that many observers feel that they should have gotten to or even won in back-to-back seasons had it not been for two straight heart-breaking losses in the NFL Playoffs — is a huge break that most NFL teams NEVER get.

But suddenly now just in time for the upcoming 2019 NFL season, the Saints now appear to have gotten that unexpected break, and hopefully it's one that will work out to their full advantage, in the upcoming months ahead that are yet to come.

And especially early next February — if luck has anything to do with it....

 

Saints News Network featured columnist and Big Easy Magazine contributing writer Barry Hirstius is a 52-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 45 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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