It has been 71 weeks since David Pollack last appeared in an NFL game. It will likely be only two weeks more until the Cincinnati Bengals linebacker and 2005 first-round draft choice finds out if he will ever play again.
Pollack, sidelined since he suffered a fracture to the C-6 vertebra in his neck during a Sept. 17, 2006 game against the Cleveland Browns, will meet on Feb. 8 with a Los Angeles-based neck and spine specialist for the latest, and probably most critical, re-evaluation of his long recovery.
A green light from specialists and Pollack, who had surgery earlier this month and has been working out regularly near Cincinnati, almost certainly will try to resume his career. A less than optimistic diagnosis, one that suggests the kind of risks that Pollack isn't likely to reconcile, and the former Georgia star might be forced to consider career options.
"Trust me, I'm not going to do anything stupid," Pollack said earlier this week. "If someone says there is a 50 percent chance I'll break my neck [again], I'll never go anywhere near a field again."
One of the most celebrated defenders in recent SEC history, and the 17th player selected overall in the 2005 draft, Pollack is one of several young Cincinnati linebackers who have suffered on- and off-field setbacks that kept them from reaching their potential and turned what should have been a strong position for the franchise into a deficient one.
His former Georgia teammate, Odell Thurman, a second-round choice in 2005, missed the past two seasons while serving a league-imposed suspension for repeat violations of the league substance abuse policy, and is expected to have his petition for reinstatement reviewed by commissioner Roger Goodell next month.
Pollack acknowledged the stretch of misfortune -- some of it the result of bad luck, and some produced by poor judgment -- that has plagued Bengals linebackers in recent years. But he has never been one to feel sorry for himself and he isn't going to start now, even just weeks away from knowing whether all of his hard work in rehabilitation has been enough to earn him a second chance at NFL stardom.
"Things happen for a reason," said Pollack, who is deeply religious. "I pray a lot, not so much to ask God to allow me to play again, but to help me make the right decision when the time comes. If I'm meant to get back on the field, it will happen. And if not, well, I'm not going to play that what if guessing game. I'll just move on to whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing and attack it just as hard as I do football."
The first order of business, should Pollack find out he can't play again, will be to return to Georgia and finish work on his undergraduate degree in history. Pollack, 25, might also pursue a career in broadcasting, having done analysis on some SEC games last season.
If he is able to return to the Bengals, for whom he has appeared in only 16 games with six starts, Pollack will come back as a defensive end, not a linebacker. The collisions at end, specialists have apprised him, aren't quite as jarring as they are at linebacker, where defenders are asked to tackle opponents who have a five- or six-yard head start. Because the contact at end is more of the in-line variety, in tighter quarters, the impact is diminished a bit.
Pollack played mostly at end in college, where his big motor made him one of the nation's most notable sack threats during his final three seasons at Georgia, but many teams assessing him before the '05 draft projected him at linebacker. The irony is that Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, frustrated by the struggles of his defense for five years, is seriously considering converting to a 3-4 front in 2008.
Playing a hybrid linebacker role in a 3-4 scheme would have been a terrific fit for Pollack, who is back up to his 255-pound playing weight, and whose pass-rush skills would have been ideal for the position. But the ends in a 3-4 defense have to be stouter, to anchor against the run, and the defense might not be the most conducive for Pollack's skill set.
He'll worry about where he plays, though, only after finding out if he can return to the game.
"We're getting closer to a decision," Pollack said. "Whichever way it comes down, I'm really mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared for it."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.