TORONTO - Argo cornerback Willie Middlebrooks’ season, and perhaps his professional football career, is history.
“Willie’s career, at least this year, is over,” Toronto Argonauts head coach Jim Barker announced Friday after practice for this weekend’s season finale. Middlebrooks has an impingment of a nerve in the vertebrae of his neck and doctors have told him he could be seriously injured if he continues playing.
“It’s not worth risking; he’s one hit away,” said Barker. The injury occurred during a tackle last week in a game against the Montreal Alouettes. Middlebrooks missed two games at the end of the 2008 season and six weeks last year with a similar injury. “But it’s degenerated. Whether his career is over,” said Barker “is very much up in the air.”
Middlebrooks left the Argonauts’ practice facility before the announcement and was not immediately available for comment.
A first-round pick by the Denver Broncos in the National Football League in 2001, Middlebrooks joined the Argonauts in 2008 and immediately became part of the bedrock in Toronto’s secondary. He made it through almost three seasons knowing he was always one hit away from it being his last.
“He made it through the year but you can’t play this game with the thought your next tackle might do something (that) bad,” Barker said of the doctors’ latest diagnosis. “It’s a hard thing for a player to come to that realization. You talk to guys about never knowing that the next play could be your last play.
“Willie probably experienced that feeling. It’s not easy.”
Middlebrooks had 48 tackles this season. The injury comes at a key moment with next weekend’s Eastern semi-final in Hamilton. “It’s a big loss,” said Barker. “Willie is one of the best corners in the league.”
His loss means Mike Grant and Matt Black, or possibly Sean Smalls and Josh Abrams from the practice roster, suddenly become keys to the Scullers’ hopes of an extended playoff run. “We have guys with experience. Michael (Grant) has played. We have Sean, a guy we really like ... we just have to find a way to handle that.”
Anyway they handle it, Ticats’ quarterback Kevin Glenn isn’t going to have Middlebrooks to worry about. And, for the Argonauts who are already serious underdogs, that can’t be helpful.