You're watching a car crash and you can't turn away.
That phrase is true in both senses with the NFL. As I stood on the sidelines of Colts training camp beside SI.com's Peter King, there were all the hallmarks of late summer -- blue sky, high humidity and the syncopated crash of men running into each other at speeds that seem similar to those you see in automobile accidents. Sure, they're not in full pads, but in seven-on-seven drills, those pops came echoing through the morning, and the low "ooh" heard from the assembled crowd was just the same.
The Colts might have the player that best symbolizes the modern NFL in Bob Sanders. The problem with Sanders is that he hits like a truck. Why's that a problem? The reckless abandon he treats his body with ends up betraying that body. He's a small truck that regularly flies -- literally -- into bigger trucks. Dallas Clark, the Colts tight end who has played with Sanders since both were at Iowa, winces when he talks about the hits he's seen. "I'm glad I don't play against him. He only has one gear and he doesn't have any other way to play. I mean, he's got no neck and he's built to hit."
The NFL is filled with human missiles, heat seeking safeties who don't think about anything longer term than the next down. We "ooh" and "ahh" at their exploits, but we also see the costs and the risks that they inflict. We'll hear of injuries from Day One of camp until the Super Bowl and beyond, but don't pretend we don't know why. Bill Belichick can do his smoke and mirrors routine all year -- and he will -- but injuries are both a part of the game and something that can be prevented in some cases and planned for in others. It's the same in fantasy.
Let's take a quick look around at the early camp injuries:
• Frank Gore was the first big casualty of training camp. Already plagued by fumbling issues last season, a broken hand isn't something that bodes well for a guy who many have pegged as a possible rushing champ. Gore's hand will take about a month to fully heal, but he should be able to play before that with proper padding. He'll miss at least the first two preseason games, though no one thinks that this is that big of an issue. (Just ask fellow 'Cane Edgerrin James what he thinks about pre-season games.) Gore could actually save his body a bit of wear and tear, always a concern for this injury-prone player. Gore's one limitation seems to be his health. While certainly the result of a non-preventable situation, this fracture shows that Gore has what Dr. Keith Meister calls a "tissue issue" -- genetically, it doesn't seem Gore can hold up. I still love him as a first round pick, but he's risky enough that if I have the fourth or fifth pick in the draft, I'd likely take someone else.
• What is microfracture surgery? It's easy to link to it, but what you really want to know is whether Kellen Winslow will be coming back from it. Winslow appears to be running well, but much like a post-ACL player, the straight line speed isn't the biggest test. Again, it's the cutting, stopping and juking that comes last. Winslow can be an effective player without his full complement of moves, but it limits how effective he can be. He was never a shifty receiver who racked up the YACs, so if he can still "soldier up" and run over smaller DBs, then he's still got what brought him to this level. There's a very poor history of players that have come back from this procedure, so Winslow's risk factor is through the roof. Add in that he plays for a team that simply seems to get injured more than any other and no matter how well he's running, I'm not picking him up.
• The combination of a speed player and a knee injury seems to be a bad one. But actually, Terry Glenn would much rather have what he has, a small cartilage tear in his knee easily fixed by a scope, than mild muscle strain. Glenn is at the end of his career and while losing part of the meniscus has long term consequences, Glenn will have to deal with those on his own time, not the Cowboys'. For this season and maybe one more, Glenn should have no problems of the same sort with his knee. Once he's able to get back out on the field in about a week, he should get back up to speed, literally and figuratively, very quickly. With Terrell Owens missing time with another hamstring strain, Glenn is a nice No. 2 that could be a value pick in middle rounds.
• Just days after saying he was "fully recovered" from surgery on his shoulder and knee, Clinton Portis had his knee act up again. Worse, the tendinitis that led to previous surgery appears to be recurring. While the Redskins say this problem is less severe than previous problems, the fact is that this is a recurrence and that alone is a major negative. Portis has always had trouble staying healthy, but a chronic knee problem paired with the emergence of Ladell Betts makes Portis a bit more of a risk. It's hard to expect elite numbers from Portis at this stage, but his potential is still there. You don't want to take Portis the first time around or maybe even the second, but he's a guy who could be a great value if he starts to slide.
• "Swelling and pain" -- that doesn't sound so bad, does it? To a football player, it does. Willie Parker is having swelling and pain in his left knee. He's a speed back, one that relies on burst and shiftiness, so any reduction in those abilities is going to reduce his value. Simply put, it's going to slow him down. A bigger back could try to run behind his blockers. We saw Deuce McAllister do this for the first six games of last season, so running north and south can still be productive. But Parker doesn't have anyone like Reggie Bush decoying defenses. If Parker is just having some start-of-camp rust, we'll know inside of two weeks. He's a bit risky, but with no previous history of knee problems, Parker gets the benefit of the doubt. However, with this problem, Bruce Arians' hope of getting him more touches might end up being counterproductive.
• Someone's been reading my work. I don't think you can find the word "proprioception" outside of journal articles on amputees and my injury reports. More of a problem for pitchers coming back after Tommy John surgery, proprioception is the body's ability to sense where it is in space. If you close your eyes and move your arm around, most of you will know exactly where it is and could do basic things like touch your nose or write your name. For a QB, knowing where his body is in space is important both for throwing and for that "knowing someone's coming" moment. Knowing whether to step back, up or get ready for a big hit is a necessary skill for QBs. I had figured that Simms would have a case of the flinches; it's very reasonable for someone who had his spleen knocked out of him in a game last season. With these latest problems and Jeff Garcia in camp, Simms' fantasy future looks bleak.
• There aren't many guys comparable to Rod Smith. He's been a solid receiver for a lot of years, probably underrated for most of those. Now, he's aging, will be catching balls from a new, young QB and will try to overcome minor hip surgery. Smith had a labral cleanup. Just as pitchers have problems with the labrum in the shoulder, some runners have problems with the labrum in their hip. The acetabular labrum (the one in the hip) usually doesn't have too many problems in football since even the deepest runs aren't enough to produce marathon-style wear and tear. Smith's recovery paired with additional depth and his age seem to have made him a bit overvalued, a big flip from most of his career. He's a good depth pick at WR, rather than one you should get excited about.
• Sometimes, having a Super Bowl ring wins the argument. I called my pal Antonio Freeman, the former Packer receiver, when I heard that current Packer WR Donald Driver had failed a physical. Free insisted that Driver would be okay and said, "If he's out, the Pack are done." Turns out Free was right -- Driver did pass his physical this week and is ready to handle Brett Favre's bullet throws again. The shoulder remains a major concern, making him a big risk. He slides on the draft board because of how Favre tends to use his top receivers. Driver gets lots of targets, meaning he takes lots of hits. With the shoulder already problematic enough to fail physicals, it's only going to take one big hit or fall to push him to the sideline. Yes, it ups the value of Greg Jennings some, but he has his own foibles. The Packers are also a bit concerned about Vernand Morency. While the team has been a bit dodgy about the true nature of the injury, it doesn't look like there's a surgical option. Morency has had questions about his durability pop up again with this injury, making some question whether the Packers will be watching the waiver wire this spring.
• I know, I know -- a defensive end doesn't come up on most fantasy lists, but here's where knowing something about players that aren't going to be on your roster will help you learn something about someone who might be. Dan Cody is not only out for a couple weeks after having his knee scoped, he's facing a decision on whether to do microfracture surgery. If he does, he's done for the season, and that could mean trouble for a Ravens defense that's already trying to replace Adalius Thomas. The Ravens schedule is filled with run-heavy offenses that can attack that side of the D. Marshawn Lynch, Rudi Johnson and even the Peter King-approved Jamal Lewis could benefit greatly from playing a weakened Ravens defense twice this year.
Bumps and Bruises: I'm not wasting more words on Terrell Owens and his convenient muscle strains at the start of camp. Ignore it ... Dan Morgan is back at practice, but not allowed to have contact. He's almost a test case now for the NFL's new concussion program ... Chad Scott is already on Injured Reserve. Of course, Belichick insisted up to the time of the move that Scott was "day to day" with a knee injury. Given the roster move, it would seem to be a significant knee injury, likely an ACL tear ... Laurence Maroney has looked good in camp, but observers tell me he's avoiding contact. I'm still wondering about his shoulders ... Tony Dungy passed me Tuesday morning, looked at me, my credential, then back up at me. "I'm sick of you being right all the time," he said smiling.