by Will Carroll
I write in multiple venues for multiple audiences, so occasionally, I'll borrow from one thing I wrote because the point needs to be made. My open for this week's Med Check over at SI.com needs to be seen a lot, since no one is looking at this situation the right way.
Since I wrote The Juice in 2005, things have changed some in the world of doping, but the presence of masking agents is a troubling sign for the NFL. That several players -- perhaps as many as 20 according to some reports, though the NFL was selling "six to eight" on Monday -- are using a prescription diuretic points to widespread violations. The typical refrain of "tainted supplement" doesn't carry much weight here. While there are reports of this specific diuretic being used in a diet supplement called StarCaps, the drug was put there on purpose. In addition, that supplement is not on the NFL's "blessed" list of supplements that are monitored and approved. I asked Anthony Roberts, the author of Beyond Steroids, about what these findings tell us. "It's use as a masking agent for various banned substances is well established," he told me. "It is a very strong diuretic and therefore a good masking agent for steroids or other performance enhancing drugs."
The diuretic used is also a "loop diuretic," one that stays in the system for a longer time and isn't simply excreted, meaning it needs supervision to be used properly. This is a serious problem and with big names coming to light, the NFL's drug policy is going to come under fire if not handled properly. Four-game suspensions seem likely for the players caught. Just don't let someone tell you "it's just a water pill"; it's a masking agent, meaning something's going on that needs masking. Let's get to the injuries:
If it surprised you that Jim Haslett and the Rams played it conservative and held Steven Jackson out of Sunday's loss, you're not alone. Right up to the announcement, sources were convinced that Jackson would play. "He's a bit sore, but he can run," I was told seconds before the team pushed Jackson to the inactive list. In hindsight, maybe Jackson would have made the difference in a close game where Antonio Pittman got off some good runs, but didn't show a lot of burst or power, things Jackson has even when hurt. Jackson's status for next week looks good, but I'm going to hold off on this since it sounds much the same as what we were hearing this past week, even as late as Thursday. I'm inclined at this stage to say that Jackson will be at full strength, but I want to see him practicing much later in the week.
The Colts took a big loss to the Titans as the baton was passed in the AFC South. Not having Joseph Addai is tough to quantify, but as the team continues to struggle on offense, we have to remember that they are missing Jake Scott (now part of a very solid Titans line) and Ryan Lilja, still on the PUP list. The line continues to be what everyone points to as the offensive problem, but Lilja is the only possible solution, and it's looking like he won't return from the PUP list after all. Reports out of the Colts say that Lilja's not close and that the Colts are considering activating him and playing a man down on the 53-man. That's a tough move, though the team could get the slot back by IRing Lilja if it became clear that he wasn't coming back. The news on Addai isn't much better. The hamstring strain is going to need more time, though the team is pushing to get him back for the New England game. At this stage, most of my sources think he'll be inactive again this weekend, meaning that the aggressive "questionable" designation bears inspection.
There are not going to be many times that one can compare Jason Witten to Devin Hester. This is one of those times. Witten left Sunday's game with what most thought would be broken ribs. After an MRI, that was finally confirmed as the proper diagnosis. Witten says he wants to try and play but the schedule may work against him. The Cowboys have a Week 10 bye, which would give Witten three weeks off if the Boys hold him out in Week 9. It's possible for him to play with painkillers and a flak jacket, but one high-reaching catch and one low hard linebacker would make this much, much worse. Sources indicate to me that the early thinking in Valley Ranch is that they'll hold Witten out. While Hester played with the injury, it certainly affected him and that's playing into the decision.
Despite all the drama, it looks like Kellen Winslow will be able to play this week. There are some questions about stamina and deconditioning that will have to be answered in practice, but Winslow remains one of the Browns' best (and few) offensive options, so I anticipate the coaching staff is going to get past whatever misgivings they might have about The Soldier quickly. Assuming the staph infection is completely cleared from Winslow's system, he shouldn't have any real concerns about playing. If there's any upside, the Browns only have one game remaining with a turf team, where Winslow would be more likely to be scraped up. However, there's no evidence to suggest that turf has had anything to do with the recent staph cases. It's the older, harder turf that was more abrasive and gave vectors for bacteria.
Was there a setback that caused Darren McFadden to be a late, surprising inactive? Sources say yes, but they disagree on when it happened. Fingers are pointing as far back as Week 7 and as late as warmups, so the truth is that it could have been anywhere. The result is the same, with McFadden unable to accelerate without pain, despite painkillers and adjustments to his shoe. This injury lingers, like turf toe, and it looks as if McFadden may be out this week as well. We'll have to wait to see if he can practice and if so, at what level. It's likely that Justin Fargas will get the feature role again, for what that's worth in this Oakland offense.
Clinton Portis had a nice week, but the Redskins got a scare late in the game when Portis rolled his ankle on a cut. While he was going down, he was hit, forcing the ankle over more. He was able to return, but after the game ended, the swelling got in there pretty good, according to sources. It's not a severe sprain, just an annoying one that will likely cause Portis to miss a bit of practice time. The biggest concern here is that he is at increased risk for re-injury, so he'll likely be taped up solid, which Portis isn't a fan of and could slow him slightly. The Skins might want to consider pulling him at the end of games, since that's when Santana Moss injured his hamstring as well. Moss has a history of these, but after a big day (albeit against the Lions), it's definitely concerning that he might have been overtaxed and fatigued, leading to the strain. He's expected to heal up enough to play this week, but again, the risk of re-injury is big here.
Despite uncertainty heading into the game, Laveranues Coles didn't show any signs of problems in the game. Brett Favre and Coles seem to have worked out the early-season issues. Coles has shaken off a quad strain and a concussion, and he has quietly become the go-to wide receiver whenever the gunslinger gets ready to sling. Watching the film, Coles showed no signs of limping during runs or on the way back -- yes, players, most notably Jeremy Shockey, have a tendency to make "adrenaline runs," as one athletic ttrainer described it -- so it looks as if he's past that. The concussion is a more interesting story, since Coles was having symptoms late in the week, but seemed fine during and after the game. It bears watching, but Coles bears playing.
The Bills have slipped a bit, but their wide receivers have been good enough to make Trent Edwards a solid quarterback. He might have lost a target with Josh Reed and his multiple foot/ankle issues. Reed strained his Achilles and sprained his ankle, a combo that's as bad as it sounds. The Achilles is the big concern and the one that could keep him out longer, though the ankle sprain might cause instability that would make it harder for the tendon to stay stable. This is one of those accretive situations that makes the trainers and doctors really earn their pay. The Bills have depth at wideout, so James Hardy might find himself more in the game plan.
Bumps and Bruises
Peter King has a great take on staph infections in MMQB. He's dead-on, but just because it's not an "epidemic" doesn't mean the NFL shouldn't be taking this very seriously, perhaps even becoming a public voice for what is a broad problem. I think his solution is a good start ... Reggie Bush's injury wasn't that serious and the surgery was minor. Still, I have to wonder how Mike Singletary might react if he found out one of his players was dancing at his girlfriend's Vegas party a week after surgery ... Matt Hasselbeck is out again this week. The worst part is that reports say he's making no progress ... The Jags lost Chris Naeole for the season after he broke his hand in warmups. Their line has been more than decimated ... Brian Westbrook had no setbacks with his knees or ribs. He may miss some practice time, but that's his normal pattern ... L.J. Smith left Sunday's game with a concussion. He'll be monitored ... Ryan Torain says he's "100 percent" and was not limited at Monday's practice ... Jamaal Charles has a high ankle sprain, making Kolby Smith the Chiefs' only real running back ... Jason Taylor and Shawn Springs have both been ruled out already for Sunday's game.