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Bengals' Vontaze Burfict had microfracture surgery

Bengals star linebacker Vontaze Burfict will spend his offseason recovering from one of the NFL's most dreaded procedures: Microfracture surgery.

But according to the surgeon who performed the operation to correct cartilage damage on the side of his knee, it's very much in the realm of possibility for Burfict to be full-strength for training camp.

"I don't see any reason, if this thing heals like we want and we think it will, why he won't be back like he was," said Dr. Neal ElAttrache, a member of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic Board of Directors, over the phone. "Microfracture has a bad connotation, but there are plenty of guys who have come back and been able to play like before. But it's not really news when it works out."

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis acknowledged that Burfict had surgery while talking to reporters in Mobile, Ala., but the seriousness of the procedure was not known until sources told NFL Media that it was, in fact, microfracture surgery. ElAttrache then received clearance to discuss the specifics of the surgery that involves drilling tiny fractures in bone to develop new cartilage.

ElAttrache, who also operated on high-profile clients such as Kobe Bryant (Achilles), Zack Greinke (shoulder) and Tom Brady (ACL), knows that Texans star Jadeveon Clowney also underwent microfracture surgery following the season. Clowney's came with the typical doom and gloom from the public. But he insisted, "the surgeries can't all be painted with the same brush."

ElAttrache said because Burfict's knee "isn't loose" and is in great shape, it should accelerate healing. But to get there is grueling. Burfict will be on crutches for six weeks, then begin to recondition his knee. He can run after three months, progressively putting more and more on the knee. If he feels particularly good, he may even be able to participate on some level in minicamp. That would be impressive.

Either way, it was a trying season for Burfict.

He underwent left knee surgery in late October, but the problem persisted. The season after receiving a four-year, $20.5 million contract thanks to a Pro Bowl nod in 2013, Burfict played in just five games. So what happened?

As ElAttrache explains, on the lateral or outside part of the knee, the femur bone had cartilage damage that left a raw spot, a blister. That caused persistent swelling, wearing out the cartilage.

The hope is to regrow the cartilage with the procedure, sealing off the edges so it can't peel off and become a bigger issue. Essentially, it ceases the erosion and coats the knee. He'll stay off it for weeks, then slowly work his way back.

Despite the scary nature of the injury, Burfict and ElAttrache are optimistic.

"The goal for him is to be full-go in July," ElAttrache said. "If he's ready for minicamp, it's a bonus."

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

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