Oxymoron: *minor* back surgery

Rams Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson underwent back surgery in early April to repair a herniated disc he suffered in late November of last season.

“It was a minor procedure,” coach Steve Spagnuolo told the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday evening. “He feels great. It’s really not a big deal.”

— Jim Thomas, STL Today: “Steven Jackson has offseason back surgery

Ever the optimist, Coach. But for running backs, especially the big tackle-busting kind, any back injury is a frightening thought. Jackson was notably slower, more tentative after suffering the herniated disc in November.

photo by Getty Images, Zimbio.com

His first report of missing practice with back spasms came after the Week 11 game against the Cardinals, and it was later revealed that he had been fighting a herniated disc.

SI_RossTucker No back surgery is “minor” in my experience. RT: @rotoworld S. Jackson-RB -STL: S-Jax underwent minor back surgery in April.
Here’s the thing about back injuries, however: They can be unpredictable and easily misunderstood. That was the lesson Seattle learned with Matt Hasselbeck.

— Mike Sando, ESPN: “Spagnuolo: Jackson’s back surgery ‘minor’

How seriously should we be taking this news? And how badly do the Rams need a backup running back now?

There aren’t many comparables that I can find, doing a quick and dirty search for “running back NFL herniated disc.” But of the ones I did find, the news is a mixed bag:

  • Chris Brown, Houston Texans was put on the IR after suffering a herniated disc somewhere in his back. Brown was a non-factor for the team both before and after the injury, though.
  • Warrick Dunn had surgery to repair a herniated disc in 2007, at age 32. ’07 was his worst year on record, but he bounced back to record a strong showing in 2008, recording 4.2 yards-per-carry and 7 yards per catch on 224 combined touches, a pretty good sized workload. However, he chose retirement rather than to continue playing at age 34.
  • Cadillac Williams reportedly had disc troubles before being drafted by the Bucs, suffering from as many as three herniated discs by the end of his second NFL season. I can’t find any record of his having surgery to repair them (he’s had tons of surgeries, clogging the search results), but my god, he must have, right? Last year he finally saw 200+ carries, after little more than 100 combined the previous two seasons.
  • Shaun Alexander faced the prospect of coming back after disc surgery, and opted instead to announce his retirement.

I think there are reasons to hope that with a long offseason and sparse practice time, Jackson could be ready to run at full or near-to-full power again this season. But obviously, this is a potentially big issue for the Rams, and for Jackson’s long term health and NFL career.

No news has passed since Brian Westbrook came here for a physical and brief talk about coming on as a backup, but handcuffing one injury risk with another doesn’t seem like a great idea. One bad knock and Westbrook’s career could be done. Again. Instead, the answer at backup RB might already be in camp: Chris “Silent G” Ogbonnaya.

Ogbonnaya looked sleek and powerful in week 16, finding the creases that had eluded Jackson over the previous four weeks en route to a 4.5 yard per carry average and several first downs. I would have liked to see him get more touches, but Shurmur was playing round-robin with a trio of backup backs. Perhaps in the camps to come, though, Ogbonnaya can thrive with more first- and second-team reps, and provide a much needed tandem option for the Rams.