While most of the college football world was obsessing over conference expansion and Committee on Infractions reports, Dre Kirkpatrick was having shoulder surgery. Again. That development ought to give those who bleed crimson and white legitimate cause for concern.
No one denies the raw physical ability of Kirkpatrick or his immense potential to be an elite defender in the years to come. Nevertheless, to date Kirkpatrick's career has been defined by a string of constant, nagging setbacks. He was forced to undergo surgery on his left shoulder after his senior season in high school, and after arriving in Tuscaloosa in May of 2009, he had to unexpectedly return back to his home in Gadsden to get his academics in order. He eventually reported later in July, but his late arrival only made it more difficult to quickly comprehend Nick Saban's notoriously complex cover schemes. Finally, after suffering a hamstring injury in Fall camp, Kirkpatrick was relegated to special teams duty and only playing at cornerback in mop-up time.
And here we have yet another shoulder surgery on our hands. Now, admittedly, this shoulder surgery in and of itself may not be bad news, but at the very least it clearly is not good news, and it could some portend very bad things.
Many Alabama fans have already written this surgery as a minor, ultimately irrelevant procedure, and do so by interpreting the following statement by Coach Saban while imbibing the proverbial crimson kool-aid:
He's in rehab right now, but probably in another couple of weeks he'll be able to start running again and all that and, I think, be in good shape for the fall. We don't see any problems for August starting practice.
Hopefully that is the correct interpretation of that statement, but it should be noted that Saban's dismissive response does not guarantee such a rosy outcome. As I have discussed on RBR before, college coaches have absolutely no incentive whatsoever to tell the truth regarding injuries, and in fact have every incentive imaginable to openly deceive. That was the reason that last year we did not hear the first word about Greg McElroy's broken ribs, and it is the same reason why Julio Jones was said to be 100% for most of the year, and why we never heard the first word about injuries to the offensive line despite the fact that the entire group was practically living in protective walking boots by the end of the year. The takeaway point is that even if Kirkpatrick's injury were severe enough to perhaps significantly limit him in 2010, Saban would have no reason to publicize that fact and would instead have every reason to tout that Kirkpatrick will be fully healed by the time the season starts. In other words, regardless of whether Kirkpatrick's injury is minor or serious, Saban would likely give a statement saying the exact same thing he said last week.
On the other hand, it does not take much of a cynic to become very concerned over this situation. While Saban never confirmed that it was an operation on his left shoulder -- which would be his second in the span of about fourteen months -- no one doubts that is what it was, and two operations in that short of a span ought to be a concern. Hopefully it is something minor, but it should be well understood that the shoulder is a very complex anatomical structure that can result in a myriad of health issues, and that if this really were something minor, two surgeries would have likely never been required in the first place. Minor injuries generally require rest and glorified medical band-aids; the mere fact that two surgeries have been required here indicates that this is probably not minor. That Kirkpatrick could be dealing with some serious structural issues within his shoulder is, sigh, a very distinct possibility.
Moving forward, I imagine Kirkpatrick probably will be ready to go when Fall camp begins roughly six weeks from now. Nevertheless, the fact that this has caused him to largely miss out on Scott Cochran's strength and conditioning program and other summer workouts clearly hinders his development, and at this point 'Bama finds itself with almost no margin of error at cornerback. With the continued academic difficulties of Deion Belue, the Tide has to sink or swim with the handful of cornerbacks that are on campus, and yet another surgery for what is expected to be the best cornerback on the team clearly gives cause for concern.