c.2013 New York Times News Service
Jason Pierre-Paul, the nimble New York Giants defensive end who confounds opponents’ blocking with a mix of agility and strength, had surgery to repair a herniated disk in his lower back on Tuesday. The team said Pierre-Paul would be out three months, seriously jeopardizing his availability for the Giants’ season opener at Dallas on Sept. 8.
But he could easily be out longer. With the kind of stress put on a defensive lineman’s back, estimates on recovery times after back surgery are often unreliable.
The Giants said the procedure, a microdiscectomy in Pierre-Paul’s lower back performed by Dr. Robert Watkins at Marina del Rey (Calif.) Hospital, was successful.
“Jason has been experiencing lower-back pain the past couple months,” Ronnie Barnes, the Giants senior vice president for medical services, said. “He has managed the discomfort with treatment and core strengthening exercises.
“Last week, he was examined by Drs. Russell Warren and Frank Cammisa at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Both felt this procedure was the most prudent course of action. Dr. Watkins, after examining Jason yesterday, agreed. We expect a full and complete recovery.”
Pierre-Paul’s back problems date to his college days at South Florida. But they were short-lived and often described as back spasms. It was hard to make much of an issue about his back when Pierre-Paul was caught on video doing 13 successive back flips after a South Florida practice in 2009.
When he was a rookie in 2010, his speed and dexterity stunned unsuspecting NFL offensive linemen and in 2011 he had a breakthrough season with 16 1/2 sacks. But last season, Pierre-Paul frequently sat out practices to rest his back and on game days seemed to have lost some of the explosiveness he had in previous seasons. His sack total fell to 6 1/2.
At 24, Pierre-Paul probably chose to avoid back surgery for as long as he could. Last spring, as the team resumed its on-the-field offseason training activities, surgery apparently became the most recommended option. The timing, however, is far from optimal.
“My back has been bothering me for a while, and even last season, I played through some back issues,” Pierre-Paul said in a statement. “The treatment I’ve been doing has helped manage the issue, but this procedure is going to get me fully healthy and there should be no more pain. I’m going to do everything the doctors tell me to do during my rehab so I can be back playing the game I love at a high level as quickly as possible.”
With the longtime Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora now with Atlanta, the Giants’ pass rush — the key to the team’s pass defense — would be devastated if Pierre-Paul were out of the lineup for an extended period. Justin Tuck is returning at the position but is coming off a lackluster season.
The added onus will be on Mathias Kiwanuka, a talented pass rusher who has spent parts of his career alternating between defensive end and linebacker. Before Pierre-Paul’s operation was announced, the Giants said that Kiwanuka was returning to defensive end. He will now be expected to excel immediately.
On passing downs, the Giants, who had the second-worst defense in the NFL last season, customarily use three pass-rushing lineman. Depending on how Pierre-Paul’s recovery is progressing, the Giants could sign a veteran pass rusher or turn to the third-round draft pick Damontre Moore, who is from Texas A&M. Other options on the roster would be Adrian Tracy or Justin Trattou, both third-year players with little experience.