by Will Carroll
This one's scary and, perhaps, symbolic. Jamal Lewis was placed on Injured Reserve, not because of the ankle injury that sidelined him and not even because of the serious concussion he suffered when he came back last week. Instead, Lewis' MRI showed "changes" in his brain, the result of previous concussions. Anyone that's seen Lewis run knows that he's the prototype "pads down" runner. He's a bulldozer with legs, one that sticks his head out front and gets hit a lot. It looks as if all those hits and one last big one has ended Lewis' career. Lewis is 30 years old and with all the notice about head trauma going on, he's likely to be one that people watch closely. Is he going to be what John Kerry would term "the last man to die for a mistake" or the shuffling, mumbling symbol that the NFL waited too long to solve a problem that is fast turning into their equivalent of baseball's drug issues?
Brian Westbrook and DeSean Jackson
I'm really trying not to grind the concussion story into the ground, but week in, week out, it is the story in the NFL this year. As the league contemplates an 18-game schedule, they need to get the injury problem solved first or the only person that will really gain out of it will be me. Thanks, but I don't really need that much more to write about. Both Westbrook -- who is still experiencing symptoms and is getting closer to being shut down -- and Jackson are out for next week, but it seems like Jackson's symptoms are a bit less distinct. He describes "blacking out," which is an odd way of saying it. The hit from London Fletcher was hard (but legal) and "knocked out" would seem the much more common phrasing. Is Jackson trying to tell us something here, in that it was more like he was drunk? (I'm assuming here that Jackson, a young, successful male who went to a big state school, is familiar with drinking to excess on occasion.) Westbrook is easier to deal with, as he's simply slowly recovering from the cumulative trauma of multiple, second-impact concussions. That the team hasn't shut him down and that he hasn't done it himself tells you how much further we have to go.
Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger
Kurt Warner's still "foggy" while Ben Roethlisberger is still being watched for headaches. In other words, as late as Tuesday, both were experiencing symptoms from concussions after nearly two weeks. Warner made the mistake of being honest, saying that he would have hidden symptoms if he knew it would cost him time. Again, this shows the mentality of players and I'm not saying it's wrong, just that we don't appreciate the damage they're taking, even in return for cash by the barrowful. Roethlisberger's situation is more interesting. While it seemed that the Steelers held him out as a precaution after he experienced exercised-induced symptoms (headache and nausea, in this case), reports have it that Roethlisberger was not cleared to play. Both players will be monitored closely this week, but both have been called out publicly even while experiencing symptoms. You'd think that the atmosphere would be more tilted towards caution, but both teams are fighting for the playoffs.
Matt Ryan and Michael Turner
Thanks to CBS, there's no question about what's wrong with Matt Ryan. I wish I could thank the cameraman who got the shot of Assistant Trainer Michael Blankenship working a tape job that's done for turf toe. Worse, it appears that the ligament might be compromised and that surgery could be on the horizon. Ryan headed to Charlotte to meet with specialists early this week, though it appears that the Falcons think surgery can be avoided for now. That significant sprain doesn't augur well for Ryan's quick return. Turf toe lingers, even when it's a mild case, so no matter the tapings, the special shoes, the metal shanks, or whatever other voodoo that the team's medical staff can conjure up, it's still going to come down to a function and pain management issue. We're looking at weeks. Complicating the issue as well as informing it is the re-injury of Michael Turner. His high ankle sprain was not only re-injured, but sources tell me "it's worse, a lot worse." Turner didn't practice Wednesday, though the team is still saying Turner could play this week. His return quickly would indicate that the team is willing to risk him to make the playoffs. Without Ryan and Turner, the team is going to struggle, one would think, and their playoff status could end up as the most significant factor in their return timelines.
Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott
Notice the name that's not up there? That's right, Larry Johnson might end up the healthiest back that the Bengals have, making the move to pick him up on the cheap a savvy move by the maligned Mike Brown. Johnson's not a long term answer, but look back at the Cedric Benson signing and you might have said the same thing. Johnson's workload wore him down, while Benson at least had the talent left in him. Benson's not a star, but he's good enough when Carson Palmer is healthy enough. Late word is that Benson not only practiced on Wednesday, but that he did so without any limitations. The bruised hip -- which is really the best description of his issue -- appears to have cleared up for motion, though there's still some worry about how it will respond to direct contact. At the same practice, Bernard Scott was still on crutches and in a walking boot with a severe case of turf toe. He's out for this week, leaving the backup role and some carries for Johnson.
When it came out this week that Eli Manning had a stress reaction in his cuboid bone, I said on twitter that it's a common injury in ballerinas. People took that as an insult or that I was calling Manning soft.* No, it's a fact and when it comes to foot injuries, few know more than ballerinas. More confusing is the fact that a stress reaction is something new, seen more with modern imaging techniques. It's essentially the start of a stress fracture. Imagine if you were standing there looking at a board with weight being put on it. Eventually, you'd see some changes, some cracks, and then failure. Manning is at that early stage, which tells you how closely the team is monitoring his foot. The stress reaction is clearly caused by changes in his gait as he tried to compensate for the plantar fasciitis. There's a delicate balance - not unlike ballet - between keeping him healthy and keeping the team effective and in the playoff chase. The medical staff is going to have to be en pointe with this one through the last five games.
(*They also pointed out that I was comparing Manning to females. Fact is, I wasn't sure what name refers to a male ballet dancer, aside from "male ballet dancer." Turns out there isn't one.)
Bumps and Bruises:
Jake Delhomme is likely out next week and perhaps beyond. The broken finger saves a little face for him ... Julius Jones will be back at practice, but he's still unlikely to play this weekend ... Clinton Portis has not been cleared to play yet. He'll need independent clearance before the NFL allows him back. Yes, that means what you think it does ... Then again, Jason Campbell "blacked out" and there's no talk of his being treated under new concussion guidelines ... Reggie Bush's knee is still a problem, but Saints sources say his work ethic in dealing with it is the bigger problem ... Noticed anything different about Dallas Clark this year? I wouldn't have known he was wearing the new Xenith helmet if I hadn't been told ... Here's a scary note on just how hard players are hitting. One injured player was recently noted to be two inches shorter than he had been at the Combine. An exam showed "severe compression of spinal discs" though he was asymptomatic ... Don't forget: The Carroll Guide to Sports Injuries would make an excellent stocking stuffer for the people in your life that deal with sports.