Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
08 Aug 2005
by Will Carroll
Don't get too comfortable. Baseball may be taking all the heat right now for steroids, but it's sports in general that will bear the punishment. If Congress uses the outrage surrounding the Rafael Palmeiro revelations to force through some variant of the Clean Sports Act, football stands to lose what has been one of the most effective drug policies in sports. I'm not sure it's really been effective in eliminating drugs from the NFL, but I am sure that it's controlled public perceptions. If Dick Pound and Gary Wadler get their hands on the reins, Paul Tagliabue and Dr. Elliott Pellman would be along for the ride. That's not good for football.
For this inaugural edition of what will henceforth be known as The Black and Blue Report (I really should look up who I owe a book to ...), I'll remind you of the ground rules. These are the top ten injuries, as selected by the staff of Football Outsiders, in terms of their effects on their teams and on fantasy rosters. We won't try to be exhaustive here; there are plenty of places that do that around the web. I do invite your questions, comments, and suggestions.
One pass in a meaningless practice -- often that can be the difference between a winning season or a losing season, a Super Bowl ring or golf in January. There might be a few too many pre-season games for my liking, yet still most of the injuries would come in practice and no one outside of Arizona is complaining about that. Todd Pinkston leaped for a ball and when he landed, his Achilles tendon just snapped. It could have been any play, but it was that one. Pinkston, expected to be a solid number two to Terrell Owens (himself dealing with the dreaded "groin inflammation"), will have surgery to re-attach the tendon and is done for the year. Receivers have come back from this injury well, so don't worry too much for Pinkston's future. Worrying about the Eagles present is a bit more justified.
While his sister Britney blows up like a white trash balloon, Dallas first round pick Marcus Spears is dealing with his own version of "Oops, I Did It Again." Spears had surgery on his right knee before the combine and now has a sprained MCL on that same right knee. While he's not expected to miss much game time, the rookie will miss the rest of the pre-season. With his weight problems and now a recurrent right knee situation, some of the rookie's promise is being left in the training room. Spears isn't likely to have the impact many expected and may lose his starting spot.
If you haven't picked up your copy of Pro Football Prospectus '05 yet or if you just haven't made it to the back of the book yet, there's still time. Brandon Stokley will have some time to make it through this year's edition now that he's met one of the five worst injuries a receiver can have. Stokley will miss six weeks, including the season opener, due to a dislocated shoulder. Stokley injured himself while blocking downfield, having his shoulder jammed backwards by the force of the defensive player. This shouldn't affect him once healed, though the hard turf of the RCA Dome may jar him on a fall this season. Stokley's relationship with Peyton Manning will still get him his catches.
Aaron Schatz is already telling me that "Courtney Brown" is going to become like Sandy Alomar or J.D. Drew, a name that will become shorthand for injury-prone in this space. Brown is once again out with a painful injury, this time a dislocated left elbow. Brown had been making a good impression on his new Bronco teammates and looked healed from his foot surgery, only to have one of the most painful injuries in football. Brown's screams were said to have stopped all drills at training camp, yet the reports are that there was little actual damage. Once the elbow was reduced (put back into place), things didn't seem so bad and Brown is expected to be back for the season opener.
It will get a bit less confusing when referring to rookies named Cody this week. Ravens DE Dan Cody was expected to fill the need for a pass rushing lineman that opened when Baltimore went back to a 4-3 alignment. Instead, he'll fill a spot on the sidelines after tearing his ACL. The injury was not a severe tear, though it's clear that even for defensive players, the return to effectiveness after ACL surgery is still near eighteen months. Hurt in the very first practice of training camp on a non-contact play, Cody could be replaced by free agent and former Raven Peter Boulware. The Ravens are also checking Jamal Lewis closely. His ankle is the big concern after off-season surgery, though they'll surely use his jail-enforced de-conditioning as an excuse to put him on the PUP if necessary.
There are two things I never trust: my eyes and media guides. It's too easy to be fooled by what you think you see and too easy to just accept the lies that most media guides pawn off. Duce Staley has put on some serious weight, pushing the Steelers to acknowledge him as 5'11", 242. Many who have seen the running back are guessing higher. "He's gone from stocky to bowling ball a bit too quick," said one observer in Latrobe. Pittsburgh has a lot of traditions and it appears that Staley's taken to them. The weight may be testing his knee's ability to hold up under the weight and workload. An MRI on Monday should clear things up, but Jerome Bettis should be warming up the bus just in case.
(Ed. note: And then, a couple hours after Will sent in the article, they announce that Staley will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery.)
The script says "Running back leaves Denver for big money deal and underperforms expectations." That's typical, but Cleveland evidently didn't get the memo. Ruben Droughns took the money and promptly got injured, putting him back behind Lee Suggs in the quest for carries. Droughns hasn't done much to endear himself to new coach Romeo Crennel and some around Browns camp are questioning how serious the hamstring injury actually is. The former Bronco has been struggling with the offense and his contract status.
Did the Joe Thiesmann facemask make a comeback and no one told me? Anquan Boldin managed to break his nose during practice. Details were sketchy, but it appears someone's hand came in underneath the facemask. Boldin had the nose set and doesn't appear to need much more in the way of medical care. He'll be out a couple weeks, missing yet another training camp, and figures to be calling Oakley to get a face shield for additional protection. Boldin should be ready for kickoff when the new look Cards open the season.
Jerry Porter figures to benefit from the signing of Randy Moss more than anyone not named Kerry Collins or Al Davis. His burst speed is threatened by a severely strained hamstring, despite Norv Turner's apparent lack of concern. He'll likely play very little in the pre-season to make sure that the hammy is completely healed. This injury might help the Raiders give some more reps to Ronald Curry, another speedy guy coming back from Achilles reattachment. The entire Raider receiving corps -- Alvis Whitted, Cortney Anderson, and Doug Gabriel -- is dealing with some sort of injury situation. H. Rod Martin will be a busy guy this pre-season.
The Bucs still haven't figured out exactly what they'll do with Michael Pittman and Cadillac Williams. Will it be a two back set or a committee? It won't matter if Pittman can't stay healthy. He's missed a couple practices with a tight hamstring and will need continued rest to keep the leg from pushing him to the sidelines. The hamstring problem is likely related to the back problem that has intermittently bothered Pittman throughout his career, so watch closely.
13 comments, Last at 11 Aug 2005, 1:56pm by Carl