Knee braces keeping Tech linemen on field

ATLANTA — The moment frightened Emmanuel Dieke.

More than halfway through an offense vs. defense drill at Rose Bowl Fields last week, the true freshman got the scare of his young Georgia Tech career when a low block forced him to the ground and wincing in pain.

“I was just scared for the fact that I hadn’t been able to prove myself just yet, and I didn’t want an injury to slow me down,” Dieke said.

Cut at his right knee by an offensive lineman, the 6-foot-6 defensive end dropped to the turf and rolled onto his back as an option pitch concluded with a minimal gain. In obvious pain, Dieke grabbed his left knee, hoping the experience was a figment of his imagination.

But it was real. And all the while, his mind was racing, fabricating thoughts of just how bad the injury was. Did the ACL tear? Was the knee dislocated? He tried to prepare himself for the worst.

What had once been a vocal crowd of several dozen people fell eerily silent. Hushed, they too wondered just how bad the injury was.

After nearly 10 minutes, they found out when Dieke was helped to his feet by trainers and slowly walked off the playing surface. The injury was not as bad as it first appeared. And what may have helped save him? He believes it could have been a pair of knee braces strapped to his legs.

“They helped a bit,” Dieke said. “Without them, I thought I could have torn my ACL, or at least it could have been a lot worse. Just thank God it was just a sprain.”

Worn this spring by all members of Georgia Tech’s defensive line, the braces are designed for this very purpose. Coaches have asked the players to wear them as a preventative measure. It is their hope that the braces will turn major injuries into minor ones, keeping the Yellow Jackets on the field.

“We did it last year, too, and it’s a safety factor,” defensive line coach Giff Smith said. “It’s good for them this time of year to get used to them, but when we get to the season we won’t wear them. But we’ll wear them during the spring because they’re mainly done for prevention purposes.”

Head coach Paul Johnson said offensive and defensive linemen on his teams have been wearing the braces for years, and they do so to dodge serious freak injuries in practices.

“We’ve had those forever,” Johnson said. “It’s just for prevention we use them. Guys slip. Most of the time when guys do something to their knees it’s from slipping or falling, very few from getting hit. It’s slipping or somebody falling into you.”

With full-speed offense-defense drills lasting the better part of the spring season, the braces can help cut down on unnecessary offseason injuries.

According to a January 2000 report published by the American Academy of Family Physicians, functional knee braces — the types of braces widely used by football players — allow users to experience “decreased pain, enhanced performance and improved confidence during athletics.” The braces also control knee hyperextension, and can lead to increased energy expenditure and decreased agility, the report says.

Forced from action for the Yellow Jackets’ final three workouts last week, Dieke rehabbed his sprained knee for before returning to practice Monday afternoon. During the two-and-a-half hour session, he participated in position and team drills and said he experienced very little discomfort.

“I just tried to come out (Monday) and see if I could move,” Dieke said, with black and gold braces attached to his knees. “It was all right. It’s still a little bum, still a little sore, but I’m all right.”

Although Smith hated seeing Dieke used as an example last week, he said the injury should have taught his young star a valuable lesson.

“It was a good teaching drill for him to learn to use his hands instead of staring back into the backfield,” Smith said. “Fortunately (the braces) protected him and he’s back on the field once again.”