On Wednesday, May 22, New York Giants fullback Henry Hynoski was carted off the field after suffering a knee injury during the team's very first practice of organized team activities. A day later, after an MRI examination, Hynoski's injury was clarified as a torn MCL and a "chip to the lateral plateau of his tibia," according to Mike Garafolo of USA Today.
Hynoski will need to undergo corrective surgery on his damaged knee, but he has set a goal to return in time for the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 8. Doctors have told Hynoski that his goal is "not an unrealistic" one, according to Garafolo's report.
However, injuries like these, suffered in the late spring to early summer, are often lingering when the season begins in the fall, and the effects are still felt when the team is pushing for a playoff spot as the temperature plummets in the early winter. See wide receiver Hakeem Nicks' broken foot, which he suffered during last year's OTAs, and the domino effect it had on the entire season. Even if Hynoski is ready to go by Week 1, the former undrafted free agent will be resting and recovering during most of training camp and the preseason.
In two seasons' time, Hynoski has become a fan-favorite, always making the most of a few sparse receptions when he isn't bowling over linebackers. In Week 17, during a blowout victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, Hynoski stole the show by paying tribute to his nickname—the Hynoceros—after scoring the only touchdown of his career.
During his rookie season (2011), Hynoski earned the role of starting fullback, but the early-going wasn't pretty for the young blocking back. The Giants posted the league's worst rushing attack, averaging a meager 3.5 yards per attempt. Hynoski injured his neck during the middle of the season, missing action in Weeks 6 through 10, but ultimately earned Super Bowl champion experience by the season's end.
The Giants found consistency at fullback during Hynoski's sophomore season (2012), as the former Pitt Panther played in all 16 games of the season. Behind an offensive line that none would describe as imposing, Hynoski became an effective lead-blocker, allowing the New York running backs to rush for over 1,800 yards. The team averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2012, the seventh-best rate in the league.
Although Hynoski's job isn't glorious, he has gotten the recognition he deserves for his hard work. In January, USA Football named Hynoski to its 2012 All-Fundamentals team, which honors players "[not] based on statistics and athleticism but because they embody the most essential part of the game…fundamentals," according to the organization's website.
Although Hynoski's presence is not a prerequisite for the Giants' offensive success, he has played a pivotal part in turning around the team's once-floundering rushing game. Quarterback Eli Manning has proven that he can accomplish a lot with his arm, but he can't bulldoze a blitzing linebacker to clear an open running lane. The recent departure of veteran Ahmad Bradshaw doesn't ease the pain either. With a cast of young, largely untested backs set to carry the load, the Giants need Hynoski's services now more than ever.
In today's NFL, traditional fullbacks are becoming an endangered species. Many teams choose not to carry a fullback on the roster, and the Giants don't have a true backup for Hynoski. Reserve tight end Bear Pascoe has filled in at fullback in spot duty—including the stretch of games Hynoski missed with a neck injury in 2011—but he is not an ideal candidate for an entire season.
Perhaps one of the Giants' larger running backs could step into the void. Former Washington Redskin Ryan Torain and seventh-round draft pick Michael Cox each weigh in at 220 pounds, and both could be on the outside looking in as far as making the Giants' final 53-man roster at the end of training camp. Still, Torain and Cox lack 45 pounds of meat, compared to Hynoski.
The free agent market for fullbacks is scant, so maybe the Giants will reunite with Joe Martinek, an undrafted free agent from Rutgers who spent about half of the 2012 season on New York's practice squad. As a former running back, Martinek also lacks ideal size for an NFL-level fullback (225 lbs.).
Hynoski's recovery will be closely monitored this summer, as New York's fresh crop of running backs patiently await the return of their trusty trailblazer.