What has been suspected for months was confirmed on Saturday when the Cincinnati Bengals acknowledged that second-year cornerback Dennis Weathersby, who sustained severe head injuries in an April 12 automobile accident, will not play in 2004.
In fact, the NFL future for the star-crossed youngster certainly remains in doubt, pending future medical tests.
"It's too early in the process to tell where Dennis will be down the line," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis allowed on Saturday, the second session of the club's mandatory three-day minicamp. "The doctors are basically [recommending] that he not play football this year, and they'll evaluate him again in a couple months, and monitor his progress. He's been able to run, and work on his training, as he continues to regain strength."
Weathersby, who turns 24 next week, was injured when he lost control of his Impala SS on a rain-slicked interstate April 12, with the car spinning and eventually colliding with a utility pole. Unconscious at the scene, Weathersby was transported to a hospital near the city of Springdale, Ohio, and then eventually taken via helicopter to University Hospital in Cincinnati, where he spent nearly two months.
Since his family requested that details of his condition be withheld, it is not known if the head injury was life-threatening, but Bengals teammates who visited him did concede it was very serious. It is believed Weathersby was unconscious for at least several days.
It is unknown when Weathersby was released from University Hospital, but he was on the sideline for Saturday morning's practice, and said that his memory is improving and that he will not suffer permanent brain damage.
"I want to thank everybody who supported me," said Weathersby, who still faces months of continuing rehabilitation and therapy. "It's great to be back with my teammates."
The April accident marked the second significant setback to the NFL career of the former Oregon State standout. On April 20, 2003, less than a week before that year's draft, he was the victim of a drive-by shooting near his home in Duarte, Calif. Weathersby lost nearly half his blood volume in that incident, his draft stock plummeted, and Cincinnati chose him in the fourth round as the 98th player taken overall.
Prior to the shooting, Weathersby had been projected as a likely second-round pick.
Having spent much of last spring rehabilitating from the gunshot wound, Weathersby reported to camp last summer out of condition, and he spent much of his rookie season catching up. He appeared in just four games in 2003, all late in the season, and recorded no statistics.
Cincinnati coaches and team executives were hoping that Weathersby, who started 45 games at Oregon State and established a school record with 57 passes defensed, would vie for a starting spot this year, or at least earn expanded playing time. Those hopes are now on hold until the 2005 season at the earliest.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.