Skip to main content

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ryan Jensen Re-Energized by "Crazy Road" to Recovery

As he continues on his uncommon path back from a 2022 training camp knee injury, Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen believes the year-long experience has helped him grow as a man and a father


Exactly one year ago today, Ryan Jensen walked into his house and delivered some news to his young son, Wyatt, that he knew would have a big emotional impact on both of them.

"Dad got hurt today and is not going to be able to play football this year," he said.

On July 28, 2002, Jensen suffered a significant knee injury during the final drill of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second training camp practice. That began a long and often emotionally taxing journey for the Pro Bowl center that would take some unexpected turns along the way but eventually delivered him to a better place. Jensen had always had good injury fortune before the summer of 2022 and he certainly wouldn't have chosen to rip up his knee on the practice field, but he's now grateful for the entire experience and how it has helped him grow as a player, a person and a father.

Jensen sought out multiple medical opinions on how to treat his injured knee and went with the fifth one, designed by Doctors Don Shelbourne and Chad Podromos. He did not undergo surgery in the weeks following his mishap, which is clearly the most common path for knee ligament tears, and in fact in the entire year since has never, as he put it, been "cut open." The injury was really six different injuries in one, and it was treated with a mixture of regenerative medicine and traditional care. The former part of the treatment included stem cell treatment performed over 10 lonely days in Indianapolis.

"It was a journey, that is for sure," said Jensen. "Right after you go get all the imaging done, all this and that, you start sending that out to all different doctors, and I had five separate opinions. I ended up going with Dr. Shellhorn. He thought that it would be better for me not to have an operation done. We went that route and are feeling good. The ligaments are healthy and healed. I am ready to keep rolling."

Amazingly, after spending the entire regular season on injured reserve, Jensen returned to the lineup for the Buccaneers' Wild Card Round playoff game against Dallas and played all 82 offensive snaps. He now says, in retrospect, he probably shouldn't have returned for that game, but it definitely gave his teammates an emotional boost and it did not cost him any setbacks in his recovery. Unfortunately, the Buccaneers lost to the Cowboys and, less than a month later, quarterback Tom Brady retired.

"It meant everything to me," said Jensen of his return to the field. "It was a crazy road. Looking back, I probably shouldn't have played, but at the same time I wanted to go out there, help the team, and be out there with my guys. It was an honor to be able to be back out on the field, with Tom's last game. It was an honor to play with him and suit up one more time with him.

"It brought me back to that first time I ever ran out of that tunnel as a rookie. You take that for granted at times. Running out there for that playoff game, it re-energized me. It brought me back to that 21-year-old kid that got drafted. It really reignited that fire and that passion. I never really lost it, but it just reminded me of how fast it can be over."

Jensen's recovery continues. He was not placed on the active/PUP list to start camp – a very good sign regarding his timetable for a complete return to action – and has taken part in individual drills in two of the Bucs' first three practices. He's not yet doing team drills but the Buccaneers' current plan is for him to be back as the starting center for the 2023 season.

"You know he wants to play and he's itching to get out there and he's doing everything possible – that's all you can hope for with that," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "We have a plan for him, the trainers have a plan for him. He does work inside and he has a lot of good days. We've just got to keep progressing."

Jensen is also pleased with his progress.

"I am feeling good," he said. "Obviously, we have a plan set in place coming into camp. We are executing it right now and we are planning the best plan of attack to keep the knee feeling pretty good like it is right now. We are going to keep on forward with that."

A year ago, he was decidedly not feeling good, physically or emotionally. Ten minutes after receiving the sobering news of his father's injury, Wyatt was back in kid mode and wanted Ryan to come play with him. Already in a cast and unable to walk at the time, Jensen had to give his son an unwanted answer for a second time.

"It was hard to walk through that and then see him broken-hearted for me," said Jensen. "It just put a different perspective on that stuff. Yeah, it was tough. It helped me see things in a different perspective and not take things for granted. In that moment, it brought me some clarity on what is truly important. Football is important but family is everything."

Wyatt sat nearby as Jensen spoke to the media after practice on Friday, even leaning in to whisper a correction when Jensen said his son wasn't allowed to play tackle football until the eighth grade. (You said seventh grade, Dad.) This year, July 28 was a happy day for the Jensens. In fact, it was "Friends and Family Day" at the Bucs' camp, so it was only natural that Jensen would reflect on how he has grown as a family man over the last year and what lessons he can pass on to his son. Wyatt is fanatically into hockey at the moment and recently went skating on ice for the first time in about three months. It took him a while to get his skating form back, and when he initially showed some frustration Ryan urged him to stick with it, as he had stuck with his recovery process. Wyatt went back on the ice and kept at it until he was satisfied.

"I think the biggest thing for me was just going to work, and going to work every day and attacking something if you're passionate about something," said Jensen. "I think that's just something I hope he sees me every day doing that and leads him to that position as well."

There were some other rough days in the past year but the whole experience has made a player already known for his toughness even stronger.

"It was a mental battle," he said. "There were days I just broke down and just sobbed. It just is what it is. It's a healthy thing. It was a tough year, but now it has grown me as a person, as a man and to be a better dad and a better husband, stuff like that. It's definitely been an adventure."

Related Content

Latest Headlines