When X-rays showed Daniel Jones had fractured his left clavicle on Sept. 8, the initial diagnosis was Duke would be without its starting quarterback for at least three games.
After playing Baylor, N.C. Central and Virginia Tech, Duke’s open week arrived with October and its next game would be Oct. 13 against Georgia Tech.
That looked like the logical day for Jones, a redshirt junior who started every Duke game in 2016 and 2017, to return.
Jones and the Duke medical staff had other plans. The implementation of them allowed him to be on the field in a game just 20 days after surgeons inserted a plate and screws to stabilize the crucial bone that connects his left arm to his body.
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Duke lost 31-14 to Virginia Tech on Saturday night at Wallace Wade Stadium. But the Blue Devils did so with their starting quarterback on the field and feeling good, something that appeared unthinkable three weeks prior when his collarbone cracked during a 21-7 win at Northwestern.
“We could see no ill effects like it was on his mind,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “He played football.”
Dr. Annunziato Amendola and Dr. Dr. Jonathan Riboh performed surgery on Jones Sept. 9 at Duke University Hospital. Hap Zarzour, Duke football’s longtime athletic trainer who was promoted to executive director of athletic medicine for the school’s athletic department last month, worked with Jones daily through his rehabilitation.
“There’s a big credit to Duke medical staff,” Jones said Saturday night. “That’s something that we have the opportunity to take advantage of that not many schools do with the medical facilities, the doctors we have, the trainers we have with Hap and his staff. A lot of credit to them. I’m glad to be back. I wish tonight would have gone a little better.”
The hardware that’s still in Jones’ left (non-throwing) shoulder stabilized the broken bone to allow for healing and protects it from breaking again. Just six days later, Jones was on the Duke sideline at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas, when the Blue Devils, using a starting quarterback other than Jones for the first time since December 2015, beat Baylor 40-27 behind Quentin Harris’ three touchdown passes.
Previous accepted treatments for his injury would have called for Jones to have his left arm in a sling and to avoid situations, like a football sideline during a game, where even incidental contact could have caused the bone to get knocked back out of alignment.
But, with the plates and screws in place, Jones had no such restrictions as he wore a headset to stay in communication with the coaches while he helped advise Harris.
By Sept. 19, 10 days after surgery, Jones went through a practice, staying away from contact. A doctor’s examination on Sept. 23, two weeks out from surgery, showed his work in practice did nothing to set back his recovery.
“All the residuals were that he was fine from that,” Cutcliffe said.
The Duke coach met in person with Jones. He spoke on the telephone with Steve Jones, Daniel’s father. He met with the doctors and training staff.
The consensus was Daniel Jones’ left clavicle was healing and was in no danger of further injury.
With all that information, Cutcliffe decided to ramp up Jones’ path to playing against Virginia Tech with full practices last Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I think I realized then I’d be good,” Jones said. “I felt good then.”
With no setbacks, Cutcliffe had a pretty good idea by Thursday morning’s walk-through practice that Jones would be available to play against the Hokies.
That night, another set of X-rays were taken of Jones’ left shoulder. Again, the bone showed further healing and no signs that his increased activity did any damage.
Cutcliffe had another phone conversation with Steve Jones, making sure he was good with Daniel Jones playing against Virginia Tech. He had another face-to-face meeting with Daniel Jones Thursday night.
Everyone was in agreement for him to start against Virginia Tech.
“The doctors saw enough healing that they knew it was strong enough that it wasn’t going to break in the same place if it did break,” Daniel Jones said. “They were confident it was strong enough. That’s why we plated it. That’s why we had that done. It felt good. I didn’t have any issues with it.”
Jones completed 23 of 35 passes for 226 yards and one touchdown in the loss to the Hokies. He threw Duke’s first interception of the season on a pass that was tipped into the air before the defender hauled it in. He was sacked three times and also credited with six rushing attempts for a net gain of one yard.
Cutcliffe saw plenty of positives and nothing that made him question the decision to bring Jones back one day shy of three weeks post-surgery.
“He played with no fear,” Cutcliffe said. “He didn’t play antsy in the pocket. He looked really good. He looked strong. I thought he threw the ball well.”