Will Hughes continue to stay healthy & productive?
This is Part 7 of the Buffalo Bills training camp preview revisiting injuries from 2019 & the impact it may have on their performance and availability in 2020. Part 7 consists of the defensive end room.
Lawson finally had his breakout year after being drafted as a 1st round pick back in 2016 that forced the Bills to make a business decision on whether to keep him in 2020. Fortunately for Lawson, he was allowed to walk in where he signed a sizable contract with the rival Miami Dolphins in the hopes of building off his career year.
He was able to have a stellar year by not having to deal with many injuries which was a stark change from previous seasons. In fact, his only injury was a left hamstring strain late in the Patriots loss just prior to the playoffs. He got up from celebrating a tackle for loss and appeared to tweak the hamstring. It appeared to be minor & forced him from the regular-season finale, but allowed him to play in the playoffs. For his sake, hopefully, he is able to continue to stay healthy & develop as a player.
Jerry Hughes is a beast. Simply put, he is a player with a high motor and gives everything he has to the Bills in order to be the best. This includes playing through multiple injuries that would sideline most players.
Below is Hughes injuries:
Right wrist ligament tears
Hughes suffered a right wrist injury early in training camp, possibly in the victory over the Panthers in the preseason. It wasn’t reported as much and he played the entire season with a cast/brace on the wrist, never appearing on the injury report.
Following the season, he announced that he had played through torn ligaments in the wrist which landed the Bills in hot water momentarily. They were cleared of any wrongdoing and Hughes eventually had surgery which was detailed here. He should be fully healthy for the season regarding his wrist. To read more on the wrist injury, check out the article at Banged Up Bills.
He also suffered an ankle injury around the same time he suffered his wrist injury. He was limited briefly and the ankle was never mentioned again. It was also not known which side he suffered the injury.
Groin (core muscle injury)
Showing up on the injury report during Week 7 was a groin injury for Hughes. While groin injuries at his position are not abnormal, the fact that he played through a core muscle injury that later required surgery was. It is common to play through a core muscle injury and have it appear similar to a generalized groin strain.
Likely, it did not heal up properly and during an exit physical, it was found and needed repair. Most core muscle injury repairs have excellent outcomes and he did get the procedure done at the Vincera Institute outside of Philadelphia where one of the nation’s doctors routinely performs these procedures. Like the wrist, the groin injury should be of no concern moving forward.
Confirmation that cast is still on as I thought in most recent article.
Groin issue probably didn’t get better with rest which led to further evaluation and required surgery.
This injury was not listed on any injury reports nor was it a concern during the 2019 season. The only reason this was brought up was due to Hughes mentioning it in an Instagram post noting that his hamstrings were 100%.
He has had previous hamstring strains dating back several years, but none severe enough to have him miss a game. Most of the adductors that attach to the groin where Hughes had his core muscle surgery assist with lateral movement but the adductor magnus in that group has different parts of the muscle. One portion assists with flexion of the hip, the other assists with hip extension, the same motion that the hamstrings perform.
This is just a theory, but it’s possible that Hughes was having hamstring issues related to the core muscle injury by aggravating that muscle group during play. This would explain why he said the hamstrings are 100%. There is also the possibility that he did have a hamstring strain that he played through or suffered during the playoff loss to the Texans.
Hughes is a lock to make the roster but all the years of playing through injury compounded with the demands of the position do concern me that he will begin to decline in production or be forced to end his iron man streak due to injury.
Rookie Darryl Johnson had a solid preseason that prevented the Bills from sneaking him onto the practice squad following cut down day. He made the roster as a 7th round pick and quickly found himself in the defensive end rotation early on.
Unfortunately, that lack of experience playing in the NFL caught up with him and mistakes began to become apparent. He quickly lost playing time as the season progressed and more of his focus was on special teams. Thankfully, he did not suffer many known injuries which allowed him to get through the 16 game grind.
Below is Johnson’s known injuries:
Johnson suffered a generalized neck strain/sprain during the win over the Giants back in Week 2. He completed a tackle and his neck was snapped forcefully backward as he was falling. He was attended to by trainers but never showed up on the injury report the following week.
This appeared to be a minor injury and he didn’t appear limited the rest of the season injury-wise. While Johnson has an excellent shot to make the roster, his spot is far from guaranteed due to the talent brought in this offseason.
Murphy finally started to come around in 2019 after a trying 2018 in which he admittedly rushed back following his ACL tear when he was with the Redskins. While his numbers don’t exactly jump off the sheet, especially considering the money he is being paid, he is still an NFL-caliber defensive end. Fortunately for Murphy, he had significantly fewer injuries than 2018 which was a strong reason why his play improved.
Below is Murphy’s known injury history:
Murphy suffered a concussion in the win over the Titans in Week 5. He was attempting to close in on a tackle before he received friendly fire, colliding with Bills LB Lorenzo Alexander. He was evaluated for a head injury and his day was done early in the 4th quarter. Thankfully, he did not miss any time due to the well-timed bye placement.
He suffered a left shoulder/neck injury during the Redskins game when he had a pile of bodies fall upon him when he got sucked into the middle of a routine run play. He required medical assessment in the blue tent but was able to return quickly, indicating it was not a big issue.
Murphy has a great shot at making the roster but has fallen out of favor with the fans due to lack of production when compared to the contact. Trading him would make the most sense, but due to the uncertainty of the upcoming season, he may be beneficial to hold onto in case of injury or poor play by a fellow defensive end. Healthwise, he should not have any major concerns outside of continued concussions which are a risk for everyone playing football.
DE Mike Love
Spent 2019 on IR with a pectoral injury
Love had a strong end to 2018, appearing in 3 games and realizing his dream of playing in the NFL. 2019 training camp came and Love began to make a strong case why he should make the team out of training camp. Unfortunately, in the 2nd half of the Lions preseason game, Love partially tore his left pectoral attempting to make a special teams tackle. He was placed on IR prior to roster cut down day and had resulting surgery shortly afterward. With the uncertain future of both DE Shaq Lawson & Trent Murphy, it’s very possible that Love makes this squad next season as a key linchpin in the dominating defense. To read more on Love’s injury, check out Buffalo Rumblings.
New to the roster
DE Mario Addison
Addison continues the trend of Carolina Panthers coming up north to work with a familiar system & extend their careers. Addison is older & has been incredibly productive during his time in the league. There is hope that he continues that trend with the Bills as they look to replace Shaq Lawson. On top of that, Addison comes to the Bills relatively healthy with details found at Buffalo Rumblings.
DE Bryan Cox Jr.
Despite the name, Bryan Cox Jr isn’t the same athlete as his father was. A slew of collegiate injuries torpedoed his chances at getting drafted and Cox Jr has had his difficulties finding a consistent spot on a roster. His time with the Panthers allowed him to develop as a professional but he soon found himself on the street before signing with the Browns in 2019.
Ideally, a new start with Buffalo will allow him to make the team & establish himself as a consistent option at defensive end as the position begins to turn over. To read more on his injuries, check out Banged Up Bills.
DE AJ Epenesa
Epenesa, the first pick for the Bills in the 2020 draft slid down to the 2nd round which provided Buffalo some value in the pick despite not having a first-round selection. He comes to the Bills as a highly regarded end who can demonstrate strong abilities to rush the passer but also move inside to provide pressure up the middle. In addition, Epenesa has virtually no injuries save for a broken leg in high school. To read up on his injury history, check out Buffalo Rumblings.
DE Johnathan Woodard
Woodard comes to Buffalo as possibly his last chance at finding an NFL home. He reportedly tore his Achilles during training workouts several years ago which certainly stunted his growth over time. He has bounced around from Jacksonville to Atlanta to Miami. He eventually stuck with Miami for 2 years before finding a home in Buffalo. For more information, check out this article at Banged Up Bills.
The returning talent along with new signings helps pave the way for turnover in the defensive end room. Most everyone comes with some sort of injuries, but the effectiveness of this unit will depend on the cohesiveness of the players along with Jerry Hughes’s health. There is also concern with Addison as he is getting older, entering his age-33 season.
Hughes, Addison, Epenesa, and either Johnson or Murphy appear to be locked on this roster. If Johnson or Murphy fails to show the team their worth, there is a possibility one or the other could be looking for a new home quickly. Cox Jr, Woodard, & Love all have a shot to make the roster but will have to unseat Johnson or Murphy in order to make that happen. There are little injury concerns moving forward in 2020 with the exception of Jerry Hughes staying intact. If everyone stays healthy & available, this could be a very effective unit.
Recently, the only intimidating thing about new Bills DE Bryan Cox Jr. has been his NFL lineage. Yes, the well worn old narrative that his father is former Miami Dolphin & Bills villain Bryan Cox.
Besides that connection, there isn’t much to Cox Jr. that inspires a ton of fear as offensive playmakers look to prevent him from doing his job. In fact, injuries have done a better part of limiting his ability to play than talent alone. Cox Jr. has suffered a multitude of injuries that haven’t derailed his career but hasn’t exactly set him up for success dating all the way back to college.
Below are Cox Jr.’s known injuries:
Appeared in 8 games in the defensive line rotation, no known injuries.
Played in 11 games, starting 10. Following his sophomore year at Florida, Cox Jr. required hip surgery that was described as deteriorating. While I could not find specifics regarding the exact surgery or side affected, it appears that this was possibly a hip labral tear repair.
Due to the lateral movements and pivoting required for a defensive end, this is not unexpected due to the nature of the movements and/or congenital issues that may have been present. He missed the bowl game that year but appeared to return to full health.
Appeared in 14 games, starting 13. Did not appear to suffer any injuries.
Outside of the thumb fracture, details are not known as to which side the tendinitis or high ankle sprain occurred. This certainly was a strong reason why he was not selected as an NFL draft pick.
Signed with Carolina as a UDFA. Was limited as a rookie with regards to playing time but did not appear to suffer any known injuries. Appeared in 7 regular-season games and 1 playoff game.
Suffered an injury during June OTA’s that led to him getting carted off. There were reports that he suffered an ankle injury with others reporting knee. This was the result of getting tangled up with OG Norman Price.
Based on the timeline & description of the injury from the various reports, it appears that he suffered closer to a high ankle sprain versus some of the other possible scenarios. He could have had surgery to remove bone chips in his ankle, but specifics of that are not known.
What is also not known is whether this was the same side that he suffered his high ankle sprain on in college. He ended up playing in 11 games over the season with multiple weeks declared inactive.
Was with Carolina for one game before getting cut, signing with the Cleveland Browns. He appeared in 6 before suffering a hand injury at the end of the season.
Bills Injury Impact:
Cox Jr. has had a rough time in the NFL, playing in his father’s shadow & not being healthy enough to really dominate. In addition to his arrest while in Carolina, he has had to fight for every opportunity, especially coming out as a UDFA.
There is little concern regarding any of the previous injuries hampering him as he begins his stint with the Bills. Hip labral tear repairs have fairly straightforward outcomes with rates as great as 80% return to play with other reports pushing past a 90% success rate. The high ankle sprains are concerning but they have been spaced out over time, indicating that he is not returning too quickly. As stated above, it’s not known which side was injured each time which prevents identifying whether there is a risk for recurrence.
Cox Jr. could make the team as his NFL health is far better than his college health. The high ankle sprains are somewhat concerning, but he does not have repeated back to back injuries. Considering the position he plays in where lots of bodies fall everywhere, he is simply at a higher risk of someone falling on his leg.
He could make the Bills due to injury or simply outplaying one of the older players in the room or settling in as a depth piece. His roster spot is far from guaranteed, but due to his position, he may have a better shot than others currently on the roster.