The full beard of Washington Redskins lineman Chris Neild won’t be seen on any playing field this season.
Through the training camp of practices, Neild hadn’t been cut nor released by the Redskins.
After playing a small role for Washington in 2011 by playing in all 16 games, Neild has suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a too-common leg injury that requires surgery and then a lengthy rehabilitation.
In time, Neild will probably recover. Most professional athletes — whether it be basketball, baseball, or football players — are able to do the necessary work to recover from the injury to resume their careers.
But in Neild’s case, nobody is holding a guaranteed roster spot for him next year. In fact, Washington informed the league he was being “waived-injured”.
Washington made Neild a seventh round draft choice in the spring of 2011. There are only seven rounds in any NFL draft.
When his senior year began at West Virginia University, it was probable that Neild hadn’t made enough of an impression to be thought of as a draft choice by any of the league teams.
But as the Mountaineer season crept along and the team won more often than it lost, Neild’s value as a defensive lineman increased. He was a disruptive force. Opponents had to double-team him. His durability meant he was always there in the lineup. And durability is a valuable chip to have on the table when it comes to being included in the draft plans of NFL teams.
By the last few games of the 2010 West Virginia schedule, Neild was quickly becoming something of a folk hero, drawing favorable comparison with one-time Mountaineer fullback Owen Schmidt.
While Schmidt made blocks and drove through tacklers with such force that he often left his face mask twisted and bent, Neild wore a full Grizzly Adams-type beard below his completely shaved head.
Neild made fewer and fewer mistakes as the West Virginia season wore on toward a bowl game. He had games where his quality of play was the best the Mountaineer defense offered.
Neild actually made himself a player the NFL would want with his take-charge showings, especially in the bowl game.
Seventh-round draft selections in the NFL don’t receive guaranteed contracts. If they are cut, so be it. Neild had to stay healthy . . . and be a playmaker . . . to be kept by the Redskins.
In the season opener last year against the New York Giants, Neild had sacks and did well enough on the kickoff team to earn the confidence of the coaches.
He went on to stay healthy. And he played some in all 16 games.
But “The Beard” won’t be playing at all this year. A torn ACL while he was participating in 11-on-11 drills brought him down.
The usual rehabilitation time for such an injury is six months to a year. Instead of trying to break through blockers and registering sacks this winter, Neild will be lifting weights and doing drills shown him by a rehab specialist.