Colts’ Clayton Geathers: neck surgery was ‘last resort’; no timeline on return

Jeremy Langford #36 of the Chicago Bears runs the ball near the goal line against Clayton Geathers #42 of the Indianapolis Colts in the second half of a preseason game at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 22, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What arguably was the signature moment in Clayton Geathers’ young NFL career resulted in “last-resort’’ neck surgery and an uncertain future for one of the Indianapolis Colts’ defensive mainstays.

Neck surgery has a way of overshadowing everything else.

“The neck is something serious,’’ the third-year safety said Tuesday. “You don’t want to play around with that. But I believe in a higher power and I just pray about it.

“Everything will work out.’’

That’s the hope, but there are no guarantees.

Geathers finds himself watching as the Colts go through the organized team activities phase of their offseason workouts after undergoing surgery in March to repair a stubborn bulging disc. He had hoped extended rest would alleviate the issue, but that didn’t occur.

“I gave it as much time as I could,’’ Geathers said. “After multiple MRIs and seeing multiple doctors, the disc wasn’t shrinking at all.’’

He met with his family and resigned himself to the “last resort’’ option.

“I felt like it was best to have the surgery,’’ he said.

There is no timeline for a return, but Geathers is optimistic he’ll do precisely that at some point. The Colts report for training camp July 29 and open the season Sept. 10 against the Los Angeles Rams.

“Rehab is going well right now,’’ Geathers said. “Everything’s on track. I feel very confident with what the doctors are saying and how it’s looking.

“When I’m ready, I’m ready.’’

While it’s problematic to compare neck injuries, Geathers’ situation conjures up memories of another young Colts’ safety. Delano Howell suffered a neck injury during the 2013 season, aggravated it during the subsequent training camp and, after visiting several specialists, was placed on the season-ending injured reserve list Aug. 30. He never played again.

The severity of Geathers’ injury and details of his surgery aren’t known.

Dr. David Chao is a former long-time head physician with the San Diego Chargers, heads San Diego-based OASIS and serves as a medical analyst with SiriusXM Sports. He gauged Geathers’ rehab time in the 3-4 month range providing it was a “single-level discectomy fusion.’’

“Usually a full return, even for a hard-hitting safety,’’ Dr. Chao said. “There have been dozens of people who have returned from the single-level (procedure). For two levels, it becomes more questionable that they can return.’’

Geathers finds himself in rehab mode after delivering a signature moment Nov. 20 against the Tennessee Titans in Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts’ defense was protecting a 24-17 lead with less than 3 minutes to play as the Titans lined up for a fourth-and-1 at the Indy 19. DeMarco Murray took a handoff from Marcus Mariota, veered left and started to bounce the play further outside. Geathers closed, squared up and stuffed Murray for no gain.

But Geathers paid the price for sealing the victory. He initially was diagnosed with a concussion and would be inactive the next two games with the head trauma. Additional medical checkups revealed the bulging disc. Geathers’ season ended Dec.12 when he was placed on IR.

Symptoms of the neck injury, he noted, were “a late response. I felt it wasn’t right so I went ahead and got the MRI.’’

This marks the second straight offseason Geathers finds himself dealing with post-surgery rehab. He suffered a broken bone in his right foot while working out on his own in July.

“It’s frustrating,’’ Geathers said. “It’s adversity. We all go through it at some point in our life and our career. It’s just that mine is back-to-back.

“I’m just trusting the process and it’s going to be all right.’’

Secondary concerns

The second day of OTA work saw the Colts’ defense without three-fourths of its projected starting secondary.

Along with Geathers, rookie safety Malik Hooker and rookie cornerback Quincy Wilson were spectators. Hooker is expected to miss all of the offseason work while completing his rehab from offseason hip/groin surgery. Wilson practiced Monday, but showed up for work Tuesday with soreness and swelling in his right foot/ankle.

Wilson wore a protective boot on his right foot Tuesday and was due to get an MRI later in the day to determine the severity of the injury.

More injury matters

Other notable players not practicing Tuesday were quarterback Andrew Luck, who’s on the mend from January surgery on his right shoulder; defensive end Kendall Langford, who’s coming back from a knee injury; and guard Jack Mewhort, whose practice time is being monitored after surgery on his left knee.

“We’re just trying to be smart with (Mewhort) and manage his workload right now,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said. “He worked on Monday. The plan was to have today off and then he’ll come in and work (Wednesday) and work Thursday.’’

Gore missing, for now

Veteran running back Frank Gore missed Tuesday’s work while tending to family business in Miami. His absence caused little concern since he routinely spends the majority of his offseason working out on his own.

“Frank is always working out,’’ Pagano said. “I think he took two days off after the season this year, so I’m not worried about that. (He) should be back hopefully next week.’’