Injury watch: Key injuries to monitor as preseason approaches
How healthy NFL teams are in late July is nowhere near as important as their injury report come Week 1 of the regular season. As always, however, there are an assortment of injuries to track as training camps get underway.
We take a look at some -- though, certainly not all -- of the key injuries to monitor as the NFL's preseason approaches:
• Lardarius Webb, CB, Baltimore (ACL): Cary Williams struggled during the Ravens' Super Bowl run, but part of the reason was that he was asked to play over his head because of Webb's ACL tear.
Webb is the Ravens' top cover cornerback and is expected to return to his perch atop the depth chart this season. The Baltimore Sun reported last week that Webb was "ahead of schedule" on his rehab and could be ready in time for Week 1 against Denver.
• Kyle Williams, DE/DT, Buffalo (Achilles): One offseason after needing surgery on his left Achilles, Williams had to go under the knife again to repair a frayed right Achilles. He still played all 16 games for the Bills last season and is expected to start on their D-line in 2013. -- at end when they go 3-4; tackle in a 4-3. Williams also is "expected to be full go" for camp, per the Bills' team website.
• Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina (ankle): The Panthers figure to take it easy on Stewart in the coming weeks, after he required surgery on both ankles following the conclusion of the 2012 season. Stewart had 93 carries and 17 catches last season, playing in just nine games.
The Panthers' ideal offense employs both Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, as in 2010 when the team finished third in rushing.
• DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas (hamstring): Is this the year Murray stays healthy? He's 0-for-2 as a pro, having missed six games last season. He was in and out of the Cowboys' OTAs with a minor hamstring injury -- Dallas was more playing it cautiously than anything. Any hint of that problem returning, though, and Murray will be back on the sideline for a bit.
• Ryan Broyles, WR, Detroit (knee): The Lions have another knee-related storyline to watch in safety Louis Delmas, who is an absolute missile during those few instances when he's healthy. But it's Broyles who will have the attention of Matthew Stafford and fantasy football players alike.
Broyles tore his left ACL late in his Oklahoma career, then eased into the Lions' lineup in 2012. Once there, he started to make an impact, including a six-catch, 126-yard performance against Houston on Thanksgiving. One week later, he tore his right ACL and is continuing to work his way back. He might be Detroit's No. 2 receiving option, should he make it.
• Ed Reed, S, Houston (hip): The Texans found out only after signing Reed to a three-year, $15 million contract that he needed hip surgery. GM Rick Smith told NFL.com, "[Reed's] rehab is going well. The thing that is important, and we're focused on, is to make sure he's there Week 1 when we start playing for real."
• Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville (foot): Jones-Drew missed the Jaguars' last 10 games last season and needed Lisfranc surgery in December. He only just declared his foot healed last month, and he could spend time on the PUP list during the preseason.
This is definitely a situation to monitor throughout August, because Lisfranc injuries are notoriously difficult to rehab.
• Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England (arm): Tough summer for Gronk, who not only lost his tight end counterpart, Aaron Hernandez, but also needed multiple surgeries for his injured forearm and a troublesome back. The cast and brace he had on his left arm were gone as of early this month, yet Gronkowski's status is still very uncertain.
The best-case scenario: He's good to go very late in camp and can play in Week 1. Perhaps more likely: He opens the season on the PUP list and sits out six games.
• Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants (back): Pierre-Paul also needed back surgery. In waiting until early June to have the procedure, he put his standing for camp and the start of the regular season in jeopardy. Justin Tuck recently told ESPNNewYork he expects Pierre-Paul on the field for Week 1 -- "He is Superman," Tuck said.
Pierre-Paul's recovery timetable post-surgery was penciled in at 12 weeks. That's about right in line with a Week 1 return, meaning he won't play in the preseason and might sit out all of camp, too.
• DJ Hayden, CB, Oakland (abdomen): Even though the Raiders expect Hayden to be ready in time for camp, there are lots of reasons to be cautious here. Hayden needed abdominal surgery to clean out scar tissue left behind by the near-fatal torn vein he suffered in college.
Even if he is medically cleared, Hayden sat out the Scouting Combine and pulled a hamstring at his Pro Day. He has not had any full-contact work since that freak injury occurred, either, so this will be a slow-and-steady process.
• Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle (shoulder): Along with ex-Lion Cliff Avril, Bennett was added to an already talented Seattle pass rush. Bennett had 9.0 sacks in Tampa Bay last season, yet still found the free-agent market rather chilly.
That's possibly due to the torn rotator cuff he has been playing through. That injury will require surgery to repair at some point in the future, but Bennett continues to put it off. Though he claims "it's not a situation," it is worth keeping an eye on as the preseason unfolds.
• Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco (shoulder): A few days after Smith underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said Smith would be fine in time for camp. Smith started back even earlier, doing bits and pieces of work during the 49ers' OTAs. This is not an injury that really threatens a setback, but Smith's health is crucial to the 49ers' chances, so he makes this list.
• Darrelle Revis, CB, Tampa Bay (knee): Arguably, the key to Tampa Bay's season, Revis will take part in training camp from the outset, but the Buccaneers have to keep their new cornerback under wraps a bit. Revis has not seen any live action since Sept. 23, 2012, the date that he tore his ACL against the Dolphins.
• Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington (knee): The question is when, not if, RGIII will be back at QB for the Redskins. Griffin has long targeted the start of training camp as his return date, even if the Redskins figure to limit him somewhat until the regular season. Any preseason game appearances by Griffin would be huge news and must-see viewing. SI WIRE: Griffin feels great, ready to return to practice at start of training camp