Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
16 Nov 2005
By Will Carroll
Watching football more closely this year shows me why this column is here. Time after time, I hear announcers and analysts make simple, silly errors when discussing injuries. Sometimes it's simply the pressure of the medium â€“ their job is tough â€“ and sometimes it's not doing their homework. Injuries, as we well know, are a big part of the game and sometimes, they decide the game. A sideline reporter who shall remain nameless was in position to discuss a player that had left the game due to injury and made the error of confusing a sprain and a strain. Yes, they sound alike, but it's also one quick way to tell whether someone knows what they're talking about or is just parroting what they're told. Remember, dear readers, you sprain ligaments and strain muscles. Let's not make that mistake as we get to it:
Men hate the cringe. TV producers all have to show it, slowly and agonizingly. It's the face that players make, lying on the ground and clutching their groin. We've seen Donovan McNabb make it this season more than once (and he's probably made similar faces when discussing T.O.) This groin strain (yes, strain) is not necessarily related to the sports hernia. Of course, this is tougher to tell because neither the team nor any writer covering the team bothered to tell us which leg has the strain! McNabb should miss at least one game as the muscle heals, though again, it is hard to tell how the muscular injury will be affected by the previous injury. McNabb has been playing, and at a high level, so the best guess is that he can return more quickly than many would expect â€“ I'll go with two weeks.
Sure, he's a Longhorn, but I gasped as I saw Cedric Benson go down. He was twisted to the ground, his knee going in directions knees are not meant to go, and as he left the field on a cart, it looked for all the world like he was the next running abck headed for a year of rehab and wondering what might have been. Instead, Benson could be back this season. How is this possible? According to Benson and sources close to Benson, he's a flexible guy. A trainer would describe this as â€œlax.â€? Simply put, there's more give in his knees than a normal person's knees, so where others would have torn, Benson merely stretched. A stretch is still a sprain, with mild tearing in the knee, but certainly better than one would have guessed seeing him carried from the field. What's interesting is that this laxity should be a known quantity. Players are tested six ways to Sunday at the scouting combine, so there should be a way to select for this.
If you've been reading this column, you'll know just how seriously I take concussions. While there's no such thing as a mild concussion, there are certainly serious concussions and Kelly Holcomb was on the business end of one last week. One of the risks of playing QB, standing there as a target as speedy giants rush at you with bad intentions, is that your head is only protected by a thin plastic shell and faith in Ridell. (Think about this next time you say Otto Graham isn't the best QB in NFL history.) Holcomb lost consciousness for a â€œsignificant timeâ€? and should miss the same â€“ significant time. Updates on Holcomb's status have been notably quiet, so watch this one closely. Without more information, err on the side of caution, even if Holcomb escaped without post-concussive symptoms like balance problems or nausea.
The phrase â€œspeed killsâ€? could only be a positive in the NFL. It's true to some extent, but so is the Pete Newell line that big men don't shrink when fast guys get tired. One quick truism I'd like to add is that â€œdepth rules.â€? Every NFL team is talented but its seldom seen just how deep they are. Some teams crumble in the face of an injury and most teams falter in the face of a couple injuries, but it's truly a measure of an organization when they can be hit over and over, at the same position and while drilled down to the last line of the depth chart, they just keep winning. The Steelers can just point to Willie Parker next time someone asks how good they are. Sure, he's sitting on the sidelines with a sprained ankle, but that's where he's supposed to be. He filled in as well as any third string RB can while Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis were injured. Now it's their turn to pick him up. Neither is 100 percent, but by this stage of the season, who is?
I talk sometimes about cascade injuries, the situation where adjusting to one injury changes things just enough that it causes another injury. There's also a â€œteam cascadeâ€? where the effect of one player's injury puts another player in an unusual or unideal situation, leading to an increased risk of injury. If it's the coach's job to put his team in a position to succeed, it's the athletic trainer's position to keep his players in a position to avoid injury. We've seen this type of team cascade several times this season with RBs, forcing teams to make creative platoons, go deeper into their depth chart than anyone expected, or to adjust by using more WRs. Now, the Steelers have a situation with their QBs that might require some creativity. With Ben Roethlisberger recovering from knee surgery, Charlie Batch went out and won â€“ and broke a finger on his throwing hand. Tommy Maddox was able to fill in, but no one seemed excited about the XFL MVP. The Steelers might push Big Ben to get back on the field just a bit faster than they would were Batch still available. They'll also hold their breath just a bit more on the sidelines. Roethlisberger shouldn't have significant problems with his repaired knee beyond some swelling and pain. His mobility should only be slightly reduced. As for Batch, he's going to miss a minimum of two weeks with a broken pinky. If things go to according to plan for the Steelers, he'll have a lot longer than that to heal.
There's an odd little medhead tenet that broken bones aren't that bad. Sure, they hurt and look disgusting if they poke through the skin, but given the choice between that and a basket of torn ligaments, most players would rather have the fracture. They heal relatively quickly, relatively predictably, and modern technology and pharmaceuticals are reducing the time lost and complications. Still, a broken bone is not something anyone wants and all the technology in the world won't help if the thing still aches when plced under stress. That's the situation with Jeff Garcia. The Lions QB has a structurally sound leg, though it still hurts under certain combinations of stressors. Given his mobility and physical freelancing, its small wonder that Garcia puts himself in the situation. It will be interesting to see if pushing back a little early will cause Garcia to deal with this all season, leaving the door cracked just a bit for Joey Harrington's career.
(Ed. note: We're going to make sure this tenet makes it into the KUBIAK projection system for next year's book. Not treating a year lost to a broken bone differently than a year lost to a torn knee ligament caused our low prediction on Steve Smith.)
Last time we talked, there was just speculation about Priest Holmes. Now the talk has gone from what-ifs about his injuries to what-ifs about the salary cap effects. The specific injury to Holmes' spine still has not been identified though the mechanism (helmet to helmet hit) and the symptomology (a â€œstepâ€? in his cervical spine, along with weakness, spasm, and loss of sensation) suggests that Holmes' career is in jeopardy. It remains unclear how Holmes is being treated, another piece of information that would help us to understand the effects this injury may have. Holmes' family and agent continue to insist that his career is not over and there have been no public suggestions of surgery, so this story isn't over and may not be for a while.
I have a rule about injuries. There are many sources out there that give you the whats and whens of injuries. Some beat writers do a great job of telling you what's going on and getting good quotes that give some insight. That leaves me to translate the rest, but if I don't have anything to add to the conversation, I just let what's out there stand. Hopefully, this explains why I haven't said much about Julius Jones. The Cowboys are becoming the one team that I can't get any additional information out of. Maybe I'm calling the wrong people or maybe Bill Parcells runs a tight ship, much like the A's, my injury bete noir in baseball. Jones has been battling a high ankle sprain for several weeks and he finally returned to the field this week. He is likely to continue his slow return pattern, sharing the load until he's 100 percent -- provided he hasn't lost half of his job to Marion Barber by then. High ankle sprains are not only slow healing, but recurrent in-season. I can't find a good example of a player returning to full function after the injury inside of the same season.
Football is a tough game. How tough? Mike Tice got taken out merely standing on the sidelines and may have torn his MCL â€¦ Covering football this season reminds me that there's no one I'd like to share a cup of coffee with than Peter King â€¦ In other Vikings news, Daunte Culpepper underwent knee surgery and is expected out until mid-season of 2006. Even that return would surprise me a bit â€¦ Greg Jones gives Fred Taylor a bit more time to heal up his ankle. Depth is nice â€¦ Beware the first week when shifty backs come back from leg injuries. Just watch Domanick Davis and see if you don't agree this week â€¦ Give Darrell Jackson a couple more weeks on your inactive roster. As expected, he won't be back as expected. He's now targeting the November 27th game â€¦ Gus Frerotte injured his right index finger, hitting it against an opposing player's helmet. Any injury for Frerotte involving a helmet had better be an opposing player's helmet and not his own â€¦ Dang, Redskins.com, didn't you read the intro? Ladell Betts sprained his knee, not strained it. He's out this week, regardless â€¦ No MRI for Ashley Lelie this week, but that doesn't mean there's not something going on with his knee. Watch this one â€¦ It's snowing outside. Seriously. That means this season is getting deep and the time to recover from injuries is shorter. See you next week.
22 comments, Last at 23 Nov 2005, 12:31pm by PL