Will Carroll
Thursday September 29th, 2011

Each week, I ask my followers on Twitter who they want to read about in this column. It's a bit of crowdsourcing and a bit of double-checking as I begin my calls around the league on Wednesday. I don't want to miss any relevant injuries.

It's interesting how two distinct camps that respond. One is what Arian Foster would call "sick people" -- people who are clearly focused on their fantasy teams. The other is focused solely on their own teams, whichever one that is. They want a different kind of coverage, away from the so-called skill positions and going deeper into linemen and defense, as well as questioning the skill of backups.

The latter group is also more interested in timing, such as whether a player who's not expected back until midseason is on track for that. Fantasy players? They've usually dropped that guy and moved on.

While this column is in the SI Fantasy section, I've never written it specifically as a fantasy column. Actually, if you go back to the genesis of my injury writing in baseball, I had an editor who specifically would not allow any fantasy references!

Unlike the stats and scouts debate that's been reignited by the movie version of Moneyball, I think fans and fantasy players should be able to get along. Regardless of which camp you're in, injuries suck, so let's get to it:

Facebook introduced a new "timeline" feature this week, and if Vick's hand was on Facebook, maybe we could understand what happened with this process a bit better.

HAND: Ouch! Got smacked between a defender and a helmet! What was Mike doing putting me up there? HAND: Starting to swell up. They're sending me back for X-rays. I'll post them soon! HAND: Took a couple views. New digital machine at The Linc. Got in and out fast. HAND: Got back out on the field. Gotta talk with these linemen. HAND: Dang, referees? What's a guy gotta do to get a flag around here? HAND: Uh oh, doc said one of the other views showed a break. I better take one.

So Vick injured his hand, had X-rays, and there were confusing results. What wasn't confusing is Vick continued to have swelling and pain while having more trouble gripping the ball. A CT scan was done on Monday and showed no conclusive evidence of fracture. There's no real difference in the treatment of a severe contusion and a break, so from a medical standpoint, Vick is getting appropriate and aggressive treatment. The question now is one of protection and function. If Vick can grip the ball and be protected enough on the inevitable hits he'll take, the Eagles could use him as early as Sunday. Vick says he's playing this week, so the only real question now is how the team will protect that hand. I'd expect him to wear some kind of glove, but we should get a good idea in practice. Vick's status makes Vince Young's hamstring strain kind of moot again, but Young is getting closer to a return.

Romo and his ribs made it through Monday night without any major problems. In fact, he came out of the game better than he did the previous week, showing the combination of healing and protection worked well. Romo is already back at practice after showing little or no ill effects. Romo should be treated as in any normal week. The fractured rib, while not completely healed, has to be discounted when projecting his future performance.

The bigger concern is Jones, who wasn't so lucky trying to play through his injured shoulder. Jones had a solid night up until late in the fourth quarter, when he re-aggravated his shoulder injury. I'm told the harness he was wearing limited the damage, but that it was painful and considered a major setback. At best, he's going to be back where he was at this time last week but with the bye coming up, the medical staff is considering holding him out of Week 4 and giving the shoulder three weeks to heal.

There's something about McFadden that looks different. I thought maybe it was just the old-school silver and black, but I watched some tape on him and realized McFadden is actually a body-type throwback. McFadden is tall and lean, with big shoulders accentuated by his pads. Most backs in the modern NFL are shorter with big legs, along the lines of a Maurice Jones-Drew. That's not likely why he's had such a problem with injuries during his career, but it is interesting to note. After his big day against the Jets, McFadden came up a bit lame again, this time with a mild groin strain. McFadden is said to be fine and will practice normally, but carefully. The Raiders likely will use Michael Bush a bit more this week, but it's a big game for them and to win, they'll need McFadden doing what he did last week -- running hard.

Foster's been a bust so far, while Tate has been the perfect handcuff. At some point, Gary Kubiak is going to have both backs available and the fantasy world will hang in the balance. It could be this week, though the Texans are concerned that Foster is pushing to get back too quickly, seeing what Tate's doing in his place. Foster's week off seems to have helped and had him back at practice on Wednesday with everyone saying all the right things. It does appear that there's going to be a bit of a timeshare, which, with Tate's mild ankle sprain, could end up somewhere in the 50-50 range. There's no real difference between the two RBs in size or role, so there's no role advantage. Instead, this might push the Texans to go up to 35-40 carries, taking targets from the secondary WRs. The problem there is, as we saw against the Saints, the run can be abandoned as needed. There's a lot of uncertainty here, especially in Week 4 with the unknown split and continued recurrence risk for Foster. Both could end up good fantasy plays, but this week, I'm not sure either is.

Gore is many things, but durable is not one of them. There have always been interesting tales about his first knee surgery, where rumor has it that a surgeon said his ligaments were thinner than normal. It came up again in the combine, but Gore is one of those players who's so good when healthy, it's easy to overlook his fragility. Gore's ligament issues apparently go down to his ankles as well, as his Grade II ankle sprain isn't showing much change as we get later in the week. The Niners' medical staff is working hard on this, but at best, he'll be a GTD going into Week 4 and he'll lose some touches regardless. Kendall Hunter is the next man up and will get 8-12 touches regardless.

There's a moment after getting hit in the kidneys that everyone dreads. You're standing at the urinal and you see red. It's those aftereffects that really mess with your brain. Grant's injury comes just as he was establishing himself as the better part of the RB split. If Grant can go he'll get more of the carries as long as he can keep producing like last week. One observer I spoke with said that on a week-to-week basis, Grant and James Starks will look better than the other more on matchups than on anything they or the offensive line is doing, so don't overplay this split too much based on any one performance. Watch the practice reports late this week.

Britt is out for the season, but not yet on IR. A lot of people have asked why teams wait to make this move. Fact is, there's just no rush to do so until the roster spot is needed. The Titans were working people out on Tuesday and Wednesday, expecting to add a WR, but until they make that signing, it's just extra paperwork for the Titans staff. Britt will have surgery sometime next week, which is normal, allowing the knee to get past the initial protective swelling. Because Britt tore both the ACL and MCL, the surgery is a bit more involved, but he should be back in plenty of time for 2012's camp. Nate Washington is the obvious pickup to replace Britt's targets, but in deeper leagues, don't overlook Marc Mariani, who could fit into a shorter passing game, and Jared Cook, a TE who often lines up wide.

Things are looking dire for Gates. His plantar fascia keeps re-tearing, leading to more pain and less function. Over and over, Gates is exacerbating the issue as the scar simply can't hold. The Chargers are doing everything they can, but Gates is at a point where he either can or can't go based entirely on pain tolerance. Rest isn't going to do anything more, according to Dr. Philip Kwong of the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic, so Gates could be back quickly if he can withstand the pain. The downside here is the function isn't likely to return, making Gates' slow descent from must-start to "Wow, remember how good Gates was?" accelerate. Randy McMichael will get more looks and anyone relying on Gates is going to need to get a TE upgrade sooner rather than later.

Peyton Manning is doing no rehab work that involves his arms yet. Sources say he could begin throwing soon, but that the nerve regeneration is "slow again". ... Kerry Collins has not yet been cleared to play after his concussion, but sources tell me he is not having symptoms. He's doubtful to start this week, regardless ... Mark Sanchez will play despite a broken nose. No one seems sure just how it happened, but he'll stick with his visor for now ... Things look more positive for Steven Jackson this week, but don't read too much into last week's four touches in a blowout loss ... Peyton Hillis practiced fully so far this week and should be back after missing last week with an illness ... Mike Tolbert is expected to get more touches against the Dolphins than he did last week. Watch to make sure he practices fully before committing to him as a Flex ... After waving off on Sunday, Chris Wells is likely to play in Week 4, but not a lock. His teammates seem more frustrated with it than the coaching staff ... Knowshon Moreno was active, but would have only played in an absolute emergency last week. We'll see how he practices, but seriously, is Tim Tebow not an option at RB/Wildcat? ... Jeremy Maclin isn't practicing and looks like a GTD. There's some worry that his tough summer physically is slowing his healing process, so this one bears watching more closely than usual ... Marques Colston is back at practice, but not taking contact yet. However, word from Sean Payton is Colston has been cleared to play just two weeks after having his collarbone plated. Yes, that's unusual ... Danny Amendola is back at practice, but not cleared yet. He has an elbow brace that could help him get back more quickly than expected ... Mario Manningham returned to practice after being cleared from his concussion. Victor Cruz will get looks after his big week too ... Lee Evans is very questionable for this week, which makes Torrey Smith's hamstring a bigger concern ... Jacoby Ford was back at practice, but may be the WR3 or even WR4 now, even if his hamstring is healthy ... Aaron Hernandez was not at practice Wednesday, making him unlikely for this week's game ... Brian Bulaga is very doubtful for the Packers' game vs. the Broncos ... The Steelers OL looked terrible against the Colts and could have as many as three guys out this week. It's not good for their running game or for reducing the hits on Ben Roethlisberger .It doesn't look like Nick Fairley will be ready to go in Week 4. Week 5 or 6 is much more likely, which can't make Matt Forte or Frank Gore happy ... Osi Umenyiora practiced for the first time since knee surgery, but is unlikely to play this week ... Bob Sanders is on the IR, this time with a knee injury. This has to be the end, right? ... The Colts aren't doing much better without Sanders, losing both Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullett for the year. Neither played last week, when the Colts defense looked solid, though both would improve the defense and keep depth from becoming an issue ... Best night of baseball ever, so I'll see you on Sunday morning from Milwaukee.

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