After freak injury, Gerald excited to return to action
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FAYETTEVILLE — Based on comments made by Sam Pittman, it sounds like the defensive line has been the surprise of camp so far.
Certainly the addition of Julius Coates and Xavier Kelly and the emergence of Jonathan Marshall have contributed to the unit’s success, but the return of Dorian Gerald has also been a major reason.
A heralded junior college transfer in Chad Morris’ first class, Gerald figured to be a key player on last year’s defense. That didn’t come to fruition, though, because he suffered a freak injury in the first half of the opener against Portland State.
After just 20 snaps, Gerald went down with what he described as a bruised artery. As scary as that sounds, he said it was “not too major” and now he’s back as a fifth-year senior.
“The recovery process has been really good,” Gerald said. “My trainers have made it really easy for me getting back and adjusting. The coaches have been very understanding.”
Granted it was against an FCS opponent, but Gerald managed to rack up five total pressures - two quarterback hits and three hurries - in his limited playing time last season, according to Pro Football Focus. That earned him a solid 73.7 overall grade.
When he first got hurt, there was some fear that those might have been the last snaps of his career. However, the prognosis turned out positive, so he wasn’t discouraged and stuck with football.
“In the beginning, right when it happened, I thought it was,” Gerald said. “But the doctors came in and they told me it’s not a career-ending type of injury. I just had to be out because I was on blood thinners.”
One reason he was scared initially was because it was the first injury of his life. Gerald said he’s never even broken a bone, so being forced to remain on the sideline for the final 11 games was a new experience for him.
“It was hard to sit out and look at my teammates play and see where I could help and couldn't help,” Gerald said. “It was tough… I mean, it was rough. I ain't going to lie. It was. I hated it. I hate sitting out. I didn't like sitting out at all.”
Luckily, the injury didn’t keep him out of the weight room for very long. He was still able to work out with the athletic trainers, which kept him in shape. That’s why it didn’t take him as long as he though to knock off the rust when practice started up.
Although he’s listed at 288 pounds on the current roster, Gerald said his weight is actually closer to what it was last season - the 260-265 range.
What he also gained from the time away from playing was a new perspective on the game moving forward, which he expects to help him in his final season with the Razorbacks.
“The good thing is, I saw it from a different perspective,” Gerald said. “The stuff that I saw that I took hard on me, like, 'Oh, I should have done this, I should have done that,' I saw it from a coach's perspective. I had two different perspectives when I was looking at the practices and stuff.”
As a senior, the coaching staff has expected Gerald to become more of a leader. That means getting a little bit outside of his comfort zone.
“They told me they want me to lead a little more vocally because I never was a guy to lead vocally,” Gerald said. “I always tried to lead by example, because speaking just never was me. But yeah, I think I’ve got to be more of a vocal leader this year for the team because I am a senior.”
So far, the early reviews from camp indicate Gerald has done a nice job in that regard. He’s also shown his talent on the field, with Pittman telling reporters Wednesday that he has “certainly flashed” during the first five practice.
Left tackle Myron Cunningham has been getting a first-hand look at those flashes, as he’s frequently lined up across from Gerald and has to block him.
“It’s a big impact to have him back, especially during practice because when you’re at practice you want those game-like reps, you want to be going against the best of the best,” Cunningham said. “For me to be going against him and Noah to be going against him, he’s one of the best D-linemen we’ve got. That just makes us better every day to go against the best of the best.”
With the opener against Georgia now a month away, Gerald has discovered a new energy because of the injury that cost him virtually the entire 2019 season. Perhaps more than anyone else on the team, he is ready to get back on the field for the Razorbacks.
“Sitting out, I couldn't wait for the time I got to put pads on again,” Gerald said. “It was a little bit nerve-wracking. I sat for a whole year. The first day (back) was crazy. I felt like I was playing Little League again.”