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Uncertainty surrounds Aaron Rodgers' calf

1/10/2015
Aaron Rodgers faces the uncertainty of how his injured calf will hold up Sunday against the Cowboys. AP Photo/Tom Lynn

There is little doubt that Aaron Rodgers and his injured calf benefited from the extra week of rest that came with earning a playoff bye. There is also wide acceptance that he will not be 100 percent healthy by Sunday afternoon when the Packers host the Cowboys in a divisional playoff game

Everything else is unclear.

The last time the Packers played, Week 17 of the regular season against the Detroit Lions, Rodgers aggravated his calf strain but gamely returned to finish the game, despite his impaired mobility. There was no reason to think he might be in danger of missing the team’s first playoff matchup, especially with an added week of recovery. Rodgers’ continued absence from practice in the early part of this week, however, only led to further discussion about the severity of his injury and how it might potentially impact his performance.

Despite all the continued conversation, has anything really changed since Rodgers last set foot on the field?

The answer is simple: No, not really.

This injury has always been reported as a calf strain; initially Rodgers suffered an injury in Week 16 to the medial gastroc, or inner calf, followed by a more lateral pull a week later, according to ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky. A strain is the term applied to injuries of a muscle or tendon. Strains, ranging from mild (Grade 1) to moderate (Grade 2) to severe (Grade 3), represent a continuum of tissue damage from microscopic in the most minor cases to complete disruption of the structure in the most severe. The severity of Rodgers’ injury has never been reported, but given his level of function -- including finishing his last game -- it’s fair to assume it was not a complete tear. Beyond that, only the medical personnel caring for Rodgers have information (such as imaging and physical examination) that indicates specifically where within his calf the injury is located and the extent of tissue damage.

Here’s why those details don’t matter:

At the end of the day, it has been and continues to be a question of how functional Rodgers can be on Sunday. Rodgers has relied on his mobility throughout the course of his career to extend plays, presenting the dual threat of a quarterback with pinpoint accuracy who can deliver on the move. Just how mobile he can be in the presence of a still-healing calf injury is unknown, both in terms of pushing off his left foot and in absorbing load through his left leg. The Packers are likely to make adjustments to help minimize some of the normal game stress on Rodgers’ calf. For instance, more snaps from the shotgun would decrease dropbacks and the associated footwork. His spontaneous movement outside the pocket is unscripted, however, and just how effective he can be there remains to be seen.

If there is a silver lining, the injury is on Rodgers’ left side, meaning the right “plant” leg he uses to drive the ball when he throws is unaffected. In fact, Packers quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt acknowledged one such glass-half-full observation for his star right-hander Thursday. “It’s better than a right calf [injury],” Van Pelt said. “As your plant foot, your right foot, it takes a lot of the pressure … anytime you have an injury to your plant leg, it’s difficult to drop.”

All the treatment Rodgers has received thus far in conjunction with his activity restriction the past two weeks has been aimed at readying him -- to the degree that it is possible -- for competition this Sunday. Rodgers participated in a limited practice session Thursday, taking about 50-60 percent of the reps during team drills and did “everything we asked him to do,” according to head coach Mike McCarthy. Even if Rodgers were to put in a full practice, there is no way to fully simulate the demands of an actual game nor the adrenaline that comes with it, all of which can influence the stress on the injured limb and the ability to overcome any potential in-game setback. The Packers just have to hope those game demands will not exceed the healing that has occurred to date. Of course, the only way to know for sure will be if Rodgers gets through the weekend unscathed.

As for Rodgers, he seems to know there is no use in dwelling on uncertainties. When asked just how much he’ll be able to do Sunday, his answer was about as honest as it gets. “We’ll see,” he said.

He’s right. We’ll see.