GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Anytime neck fusion surgery is mentioned around the Green Bay Packers' organization, it usually raises the hair on the back of the front office's neck.
In the case of defensive end Johnny Jolly, the potential for being cleared medically might not be as slim as it was with safety Nick Collins and might be for tight end Jermichael Finley.
The neck and shoulder issues Jolly dealt with at the end of the season and ultimately sent him to injured reserve with two games to go in the regular season, were the result of a bulging disc between the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae.
To repair the injury, Jolly had single-level fusion surgery in Chicago on Jan. 10 and has been waiting for clearance to begin working out.
According to his agent, Jack Bechta, Jolly received word from his surgeon this week that he can start doing cardio and light lifting. Bechta had said at the scouting combine last week that Jolly was doing very well and was expecting a good report from the surgeon, so the news isn't a big surprise.
A bigger milestone will come in two weeks when Jolly, 31, has an X-ray and MRI to determine whether he can step up his workouts and get closer to proving to the Packers that he'll be ready for next season. At play is the condition of Jolly's hip where a graft was taken and used to help fuse the vertebrae.
"He's looking good," Bechta said. "Over 20 guys in the league have had it. He wants to play another three or four years. Nothing else on his body is bothering him."
The Packers already know a C-5, C-6 fusion doesn't mean the end of a career. Safety Sean Richardson underwent a similar procedure early last year and was cleared at midseason.
Most neck specialists consider the safety position much riskier than defensive line because of the high-impact collisions, so barring any complications Jolly should get to play football again.
Whether he's playing in Green Bay is another matter. Jolly is an unrestricted free agent and the Packers will undoubtedly wait before making a decision on whether to re-sign him.
(c)2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at www.jsonline.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services