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.
21 Sep 2005
by Will Carroll
Two weeks into the season and what have we learned? Injuries can end a team's hopes or just as quickly give rise to a star like Willie Parker. I don't know any more than you do if Parker is the next Jerome Bettis or the next Timmy Smith, but it's great sport when things like this happen. We see powerful hits that would have you or me in adult diapers for the next month, but in the modern NFL, these men just dust themselves off and head back to the huddle. Although their constitutions and hearts are strong, knees and shoulders are still weak. A sport once described as "violence and committee meetings" can also have a grace and style all its own. I'll admit it -- the game is seducing me again.
Like the NFL this weekend, I'll put in my two cents (and quite a bit more) for continued assistance to the Katrina rebuilding effort. Those are people down there, not just "evacuees," and with Rita coming, the needs won't stop because the telethons do. Let's get to it:
No one is Superman. Curtis Martin was described variously in pre-season publications as "indestructible," "durable," and "injury-proof." There must have been kryptonite in the field when the Jets back went down with a sprained knee. The collateral ligament -- no, the Jets aren't saying which one - was stretched, but not torn, according to a Tuesday MRI. Martin may be able to play on Sunday depending on how his knee responds. The knee is still sprained, just not severely, and it is swollen and painful. Martin will be spending time with the various modalities and medicines used to bring players back. Since Chad Pennington is still struggling with his shoulder, and Derrick Blaylock has been trusted with a whopping two carries so far, the Jets have to hope that Martin is able to make 20 carries with some effectiveness.
Things are bad enough in Minnesota without an injury piling on. Randy Moss is gone, Daunte Culpepper is causing fantasy football suicides everywhere, and now Nate Burleson is down. The new #1 WR in Minnesota sprained his posterior cruciate ligament, an unusual injury even for a turf football team and worse for Burleson. The Hughston Foundation, one of the leading orthopaedic research organizations, says that because doctors see so few PCL injuries, the state of the art for PCL is about ten years behind that of the ACL. The ligament is the knee joint's primary stabilizer, keeping the femur and tibia from having too much give and providing an axis of rotation. Burleson is out for at least one week, possibly as long as six. Once Burleson makes it back to running, he should be fine, so watch for that key.
Erik Coleman had surgery Monday to reduce and fixate a broken and dislocated right thumb. Here's why I love the NFL -- Coleman might play on Sunday. I mean, seriously, one of the most painful injuries to the dominant hand of a defensive back and the guy might be back in the lineup? I can't imagine the combination of desire, madness, and painkillers that would make it possible, but it simply is. Painkillers are both the secret weapon and dirty little secret of professional football. Their use and abuse is something I'd love to see someone like Carl Prine or Chris Mortensen tackle. Coleman, if he plays, would be slightly limited on catches and by pain tolerance.
Ronald Curry re-tore his left Achilles tendon during Sunday's game, just his second game after missing much of last season with the same injury. Curry had looked good throughout camp and the recovery rate for this type of surgery is very high. Curry had previously torn his right Achilles as well, leading to the conclusion that this is a â€œtissue issue.â€? Curry has some sort of weakness in his Achilles, perhaps genetic or from some other cause such as gait, strength deficit, or similar. Curry faces another long rehab and his future is now cloudy despite clear talent.
The Texans' problems aren't just offensive. Gary Walker, a key to the team's pass rush, will have a hard time doing much of anything with a separated shoulder. The injury is extremely painful and sources told me that it was still tender and swollen on Tuesday -- definitely a bad sign for his availability. Any contact is going to be dangerous and extremely painful until the joint calms down and stabilizes, so the team is going to have to be conservative at this stage and hope that there's little or no structural damage inside the shoulder. Any defensive player has to have healthy shoulders for hitting or a pain tolerance that I can't imagine.
Byron Leftwich has a long history with injuries. The tales of his playing QB at Marshall with a broken leg and being carried back to the huddle are legendary. Leftwich was battered by a speedy Colts defense, ending with a terrifying hit from behind that appeared to break his leg, his back or both. He somehow made it back in the game, leaving with a one-finger salute for the RCA Dome. Leftwich clearly had his knee open up, likely causing some ligament damage on a normal player, so the fact that he came away with nothing more than a groin strain tells us he's either superhuman or has lax knees. That might have saved him, but that's something that may be problematic long term. Leftwich is expected to start. His return to the game while hobbled raises an interesting question -- when does it make sense to bring in a backup? If David Garrard is 80% the QB that Leftwich is -- and I'll leave that type of calculation to Aaron and the crew -- then it takes only a 20% loss to make Leftwich his equal, and ties go to the healthy. Medical staffs and coaches have to make that kind of value decision on the fly. Knowing those numbers would be a very interesting study.
The Jags weren't as lucky with defensive back Donovan Darius as they were with their huge QB. Darius tore his ACL, weakening an already weakened defensive backfield that in Week 2 is already decimated. Darius will have surgery and faces a year of rehab before returning to the field. At 30, he's likely to be at risk for being released next season. The holdout this spring wouldn't have any effect on the injury, despite that suggestion by Jack Del Rio. The Jags will keep chopping wood, I guess, if not winning games.
The Packers didn't necessarily get good news with images on Bubba Franks's knee. While the tests found no structural damage, a deep bone bruise often heals on its own conservative schedule. Listed as doubtful, Franks is yet to participate in drills, and more worrisome, initial reports indicated a hip problem. Perhaps Mike Sherman misspoke, but this bears close watch. While a knee problem should clear up without further effects, hip injuries not only have a tendency to linger, they can quickly complicate into career-ending or changing injuries. On the heels of a new contract, that can't be a good thing for the transitioning Packers.
Back at this season's combine, the talk centered on which player was better -- Auburn's Ronnie Brown or Auburn's Cadillac Williams. Both had their plusses and minuses, their cheerleaders and detractors, and at the draft, both ended up in Florida. It's far too early to tell who's right, though Williams has an early lead with nearly 300 rushing yards. Williams is also the one of the pair that walked out of last week's game in a protective boot. Williams strained a muscle in his foot during the first half of last week's game, receiving a painkiller injection at the half. Despite this, Williams is expected to play on Sunday, though he may be limited. He'll be a risky play either way -- he could be forced from the game quickly if the pain is too much, or he could rack up another 100-yard day. Expect something in between.
I'm the guy that played Michael Vick over Donovan McNabb yesterday in my fantasy league (ouch ... I'm 0-2!) Vick left the game late after his oft-problematic hamstring tightened up, leaving backup Matt Schaub on the field with the game on the line. Vick's visible frustration won't help his legs. Sources indicate that Vick is likely to be listed as "probable" and a decision will be made at the end of the week. Vick's mobility should be limited and there's a significant chance of re-injury. As exciting as he is, Michael Vick is the definition of risk in the NFL.
Note to self -- bruised sternum apparently does not affect QBs ... Eric Johnson is doubtful for this week with plantar fascitis. This is a slow healing injury that could need surgery. Be careful ... Priest Holmes has some shoulder soreness, but should be ready for Sunday. He'll likely lose a few carries to Larry Johnson because of the injury ... Ben Roethlisberger is going to join the ranks of QBs wearing knee braces. That any QBs still don't wear them surprises me. Colts fans saw Peyton Manning's knee saved by his brace this weekend.
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