It is amazing how much time is spent in the offseason breaking down rosters, depth charts and making projections when all of it can be altered in a split-second. That's approximately how long it takes for an ACL to tear or an Achilles tendon to pop. Careers and team success can change in an instant.
The odd thing is that injuries to teammates hardly causes players to blink. They get so used to it and so immune to the repercussions of life in the NFL that the next guy steps in and the practice or game just keeps going. The NFL merry-go-round stops for nobody. Last year's injury to Tom Brady should suffice as exhibit A.
So while players and coaches must move on, it is up to the player personnel departments around the league to account for injuries. If a team lacks quality depth and a player goes down, there are no excuses. The Pittsburgh Steelers success in 2008 is the quintessential example of a team overcoming serious injuries yet still achieving ultimate success.
The Steelers lost running back Willie Parker for a long stretch, which was compounded when rookie Rashard Mendenhall was lost for the season after a devastating collision with Ray Lewis. More importantly, the Steelers offensive line depth was severely tested after their two most experienced linemen, left tackle Marvel Smith and right guard Kendall Simmons, went down. Yet Pittsburgh survived the losses just fine, and that is exactly what the teams that have suffered devastating injuries already this preseason will have to do as well.
Here's my look at some of the early season-ending injuries and how they could affect those teams:
• Maake Kemoeatu, Carolina Panthers defensive tackle
Of all the injuries so far, the Panthers' loss of the wide-bodied Maake Kemoeatu is the biggest, literally and figuratively. For one thing, the Panthers have a serious depth problem because of the cap consequences of keeping guys like Julius Peppers and Jordan Gross under contract.
If an injury had happened along the offensive line, the Panthers could have signed a hold-the-fort veteran and stayed on track. The problem with the loss of Kemoeatu is there is nobody out there who can come even close to providing the run-stuffing presence he does. There just aren't that many 6-foot-5, 365-pound guys with preposterous strength and surprising quickness working at Wal-Mart or otherwise available to play nose tackle.
The depth behind Kemoeatu consists of second-year player Nick Hayden, third-round pick Corey Irvin and undrafted rookie Marlon Favorite. Not exactly murderer's row, especially when you consider Irvin was drafted mainly because of his ability as an interior rusher, not a hole-plugger. The Panthers will keep their eye on the waiver wire and perhaps try to trade with a tackle-heavy team (John Fox knows some people with the Giants, doesn't he?). Their defense, as it currently stands, simply isn't good enough for a team talking Super Bowl.
• Reggie Kelly, Cincinnati Bengals tight end
Losing Reggie Kelly to an Achilles tendon hurts the Bengals more than the casual fantasy-playing fan might realize. No, Kelly is not a key target for Carson Palmer. That job will fall into the hands of last year's free agent pickup Ben Utecht and this year's fourth-round pick, Chase Coffman. Kelly, however, is the best blocker of the three, which may not be as sexy but is no less important, especially for a team that drafted Andre Smith and re-signed Cedric Benson with the intention of being a power-running team in the black and blue AFC North.
With Kelly out, the Bengals need Utecht to improve his blocking, except that his status is up in the air as a result of a recent concussion. Kelly also had paired with right guard Bobbie Williams to give the Bengals some established veteran leadership, which means there's yet another void to be filled.
• Stewart Bradley and Cornelius Ingram, Philadelphia Eagles linebacker and tight end
Stewart Bradley's torn ACL is a major blow to the Eagles on two fronts. As the middle linebacker and signal caller, Bradley was beginning to come into his own from a leadership perspective. That role is especially important now that longtime Philly emotional leader Brian Dawkins is a Denver Bronco. Equally as important was Bradley's production and presence on the field. He is a lean 255-pound 'backer who can really run, and those type of players don't come around often. The Eagles are hoping second-year player Joe Mays, a tackling machine at North Dakota State who impressed last preseason, can fill that void.
Cornelius Ingram's injury is not quite as destructive, but the fifth-rounder from Florida had already proven he was going to get significant playing time as a rookie. Ingram's athleticism and surprisingly solid blocking made him the rare second-day pick ready to contribute from day one. Fortunately for the Eagles, veteran Matt Schobel should be able to hold down the fort as Ingram misses a second straight season.
• Harry Douglas, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver
Yes, Roddy White has been signed to a new contract. That certainly helps the Falcons receiving corps, but the loss of Douglas is one that could slow the development of second-year quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons don't have any other receivers with his shiftiness and quickness in and out of breaks; recent veteran pickups Robert Ferguson and Marty Booker are uninspiring. Douglas was primed for a big year out of the slot and now the Falcons will have to look elsewhere. Don't be surprised if veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez is in even more packages as a result of the torn ACL Douglas suffered.
• Jared DeVries, Detroit Lions defensive end
He may not be a household name, but DeVries is just the type of lunch-pail player that new head coach Jim Schwartz wanted to build around. Schwartz played a big part in resurrecting Kyle Vanden Bosch's career in Tennessee and hoped DeVries could increase his numbers as well. That is not going to happen this year and is unlikely to happen ever given DeVries' age and the reality that a torn Achilles tendon is difficult to come back from. DeVries was set to be a starter for the Lions and his absence means Dewayne White and Cliff Avril are the likely first-teamers. Detroit's depth at that position is now a glaring weakness.