Mason Rudolph walked through the Steelers' locker room Monday afternoon as if he were right as the rain. And that was a good sign for the second-year quarterback as he begins his recovery from a concussion suffered in the third quarter of Sunday's 26-23 overtime loss to the Ravens.
Rudolph went to a local hospital for evaluation Sunday night following the hit by Baltimore safety Earl Thomas, but was released last night.
Players who are in the NFL's concussion protocol are not permitted to speak to the media, but his appearance in the Steelers' locker room was a welcome sight. It also most certainly doesn't mean the Steelers or Rudolph are out of the woods just yet when it comes to the league's concussion protocol.
Rudolph will have some clear and obvious steps he has to take before he is cleared by an independent neurologist to return to the football field.
The Bills' Josh Allen suffered a concussion two weeks ago in a loss to the Patriots after a helmet-to-helmet hit by cornerback Jonathan Jones. After not practicing all week, he was cleared through the NFL's concussion protocol rules and played in Buffalo's 14-7 win Sunday over the Titans.
Others, however, have not been so fortunate, sometimes taking weeks to be cleared by neurologists to return to the field.
What steps will Rudolph have to make to be cleared to return for the Steelers (1-4), who travel to Los Angeles to face the Chargers (2-3) this week?
Per NFL rules, here are the five closely monitored medical steps he must take.
- The player is prescribed rest until concussion symptoms go away (ie. headaches, dizziness). He is then examined by a neurologist to see how well his balance and cognitive functions have returned. Each NFL player is tested every year prior to the start of the season to measure those functions for a baseline that is then used to measure concussion recovery against.
- Under direct supervision of the team's medical staff, the player will begin light aerobic exercise once he has been cleared through Step 1. Light exercise can cause a relapse of concussion symptoms. If concussion symptoms arise, the player goes back to step one.
- Continued aerobic exercise and strength training under the supervision of team medical staff. The player begins ramping up workouts. If concussion symptoms arise, the player goes back to step one.
- If the player makes it through the first three steps, he is then permitted to return to the football field in a non-contact capacity for practice. Again, if concussion symptoms arise, the player goes back to step one.
- If the player makes it through the first four stages with no sign of a relapse, the team's medical staff can give him clearance to return to full practice. At that point, he must also be examined and given clearance by an independent physician. If that occurs, the player is "cleared" to return.
That's five clear steps Rudolph, who appeared to be knocked unconscious by the hit from Thomas, must make in the next five days. Barring that happening, the Steelers will likely play the Chargers with third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges making his first career start.
Hodges would be the third quarterback to start a game for the Steelers this season. Ben Roethlisberger suffered an elbow injury in the first half of the team's 26-24 Week 2 loss to the Seahawks and has since been placed on injured reserve. He had surgery on the elbow and will miss the remainder of this season.
Rudolph, meanwhile, has completed 67 percent of his passes in four games for 646 yards, seven touchdown passes and two interceptions, a passer rating of 102.5. Hodges completed seven-of-nine passes for 68 yards after relieving Rudolph against the Ravens.
It was good to see Rudolph in the locker room. If he was still in the first step of protocol, he likely wouldn't have been in the locker room on Monday.
Often times, those players are nowhere to be seen.
But he's got several steps to take, as I laid out here. It's a process, as it should be.
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