We're still two weeks away from kickoff, leaving plenty of time for players to find ways to hurt themselves. Training camp is an interesting period, a combination of all-out, live-or-die fights for primacy and bubble-wrapped, red jersey-wearing players who have their own Fonzworth Bentley holding an umbrella over them and pushing away any flying bodies that might accidentally intrude on their personal space. I'll have a lot more on this in the future, but Bill Barnwell and I found an interesting correlation between teams being healthy coming out of camp and being healthy all year long. We have a couple more weeks before we can look to see what that might tell us about this year. Until then, I'll just look forward to getting away from the grind of camp, which has become speculation, rumors and a "cone of silence" that is rendering the official injury report a laughing stock. Let's see what we've got:
The rumors about Peyton Manning have been crazy this week. From the picture of him at a charity event with a large knee brace on his right knee to reports he had a second clean-up procedure on his left knee, the story keeps getting more and more complex. The problem is that all of this recalls the Colts' treatment of Marvin Harrison's knee injury last season, from the no comments to the ridiculous denials -- "tight jeans" is a bad excuse when the picture shows the brace over his pants -- the Colts' credibility is lacking on this issue. I'm not saying that they're lying, just that no one believes them on this issue. Hey, I'm here in Indianapolis. If Manning or Bill Polian or Hunter Smith (the team's ATC, not the punter) want to talk to me about it, I'd be happy to drive over to Colts camp and help them explain exactly what's going on. Manning is still hinting that he'll be ready to practice next week, putting him on track to start in Week 1, but I have a feeling that I'm going to have two more weeks of the NFL's version of waterboarding.
The Eagles are a team that a lot of people seem to be sleeping on, but if they keep losing receivers, there won't be much reason to wake up. Curtis is headed for surgery to repair a sports hernia, a procedure that takes between six and eight weeks to recover from normally. The Eagles aren't offering up any timetables, but Curtis' surgery reportedly went well and sources tell me that the hernia was "normal" (i.e. no bigger a tear than they expected). Players come back from this surgery well, but there's very little in the way of comparsion for an in-season return of a speed player. It has to significantly downgrade Curtis, bump Donovan McNabb down a bit, and bump up Brian Westbrook, DeSean Jackson and Andy Reid's blood pressure.
Jackson is back in camp and has signed a big, long-term deal. That's good, but many of you have e-mailed asking if training camp holdouts have more injuries once they're back. The answer is ... well, really, we're not sure. There's a dearth of information, and what we've collected comes mostly from a small sample of three years and anecdotal evidence. It doesn't appear that training camp holdouts have more injuries, but the biggest factor seems to be whether or not they kept up their conditioning. Larry Johnson last season came late, ended up hurt, but did that have anything to do with his holdout or his previous season's workload? There's seldom a one-to-one relationship with anything in the NFL, but I don't think we need to downgrade Jackson much due to missing time in practice.
Concussions are no joke, so having one in a preseason game has to be taken very seriously. As we've learned with Trent Green, while the first one is bad, it's the dangers that the second presents that are the real problem. With Anderson reasonably mobile and playing behind a line that showed great protection last year, it's not as worrisome as it would be for most. Still it only takes one flukish play, like Green's run, slide and near-decapitation, to end a season, end a career or change a life. Those are the kind of things that the Browns and the NFL should be doing more to prevent. I'd imagine that Romeo Crennel and Steve Marshall are working on this issue right now. I wouldn't downgrade Anderson based on this alone, however.
There's a huge difference between what a team will do or not do in the preseason and what they'll do or not do in the regular season. When the games count, players tend to play unless they simply can't. The Seahawks won't take any risks with Hasselbeck, holding him out for the rest of the preseason games, but there's little doubt that he'll be under center when the season starts. The concern is that the back stiffness lingers or is exacerbated by the hits that Hasselbeck will inevitably take over the course of the season. Since it's important to know how often we think that will be, let's look at some advanced numbers from last season, courtesy of our friends at Pro Football Prospectus. Hasselbeck was knocked down 62 times last season, one of the lowest numbers on a per-pass basis in the league. In other words, I wouldn't worry too much about this.
Jones is about eight months post-ACL reconstruction, just off the PUP list, and playing for the Bears. What could go wrong? Actually, it's only the latter that worries me since they don't have much of a passing game. Jones has always been a speed-based player, shifty enough to make people miss, at least to some extent, so the typical pattern of coming back from ACL surgery is problematic. While a bigger back who can bull it some can be effective following his line and dropping the pads in that period before being able to cut and juke, Jones doesn't seem to be that guy. While he's probably a nice changeup from Matt Forte, he's still a guy who's a late-round pick who could contribute in the second half. The minute you see him with the bulky brace, you'll agree, though we'll have to see how he looks this weekend.
Stewart put up his crazy Combine numbers before having surgery on his toe. So why is everyone seemingly more concerned now that the toe has been surgically repaired? They shouldn't be, though admittedly the rehab from that surgery kept him from getting all the reps he could have in practice. Stewart was always likely to split carries with DeAngelo Williams, but given his college numbers (on a bad toe!) and his size, he's always been likely to get the carries near the end zone. Add in that he'll get more and more comfortable with both the playbook, his teammates, and that infamous toe over the course of the season, and I keep seeing Joseph Addai, 2006 version. You might remember that Addai has a ring from that season, put up 1,000 yards and 8 TDs, establishing himself as an elite back. Here's your chance to get Version 2.0, especially if you're in a keeper league.
If you're new to the injury report, one of the things I do that few else note is the problems that injured linemen cause for fantasy teams. While you don't draft linemen in most leagues, their play will affect what the guys playing behind them are able to do. With OG Joseph out for two months or more with a broken foot that required surgery, Earnest Graham has to be a downgrade. Graham and the Bucs liked running behind Joseph, and in power sets, but without much depth, what could be the Bucs biggest strengths -- their young, improving line -- could end up being yet another trouble spot.
Let's see if I can just let you do the math on this one ... Cribbs, one of the ultimate speed players, suffers a high ankle sprain and will miss up to a month. Really, I should just stop there, but my editors don't like it to be quite that simple. Cribbs' injury will hold him back and has some lingering issues that might affect him well into the season. Given his backups and the value he added to the Browns D/ST last season, this might push that unit pick off the board altogether. Then again, it might make them a nice value pick if you're willing to make the "Kicker Gambit", picking your kicker in the next to last round and taking a defense in the last one.
It's too easy to go with a Clash reference here, but the fact is that things in Cincinnati are getting bad in a hurry. Chad Johnson should be back for the first game, but the shoulder injury is one that could recur. Marvin Lewis doesn't want Chris Henry back, but might not have final say. Now they can't keep Rudi Johnson healthy enough to for him to beat out Chris Perry, a guy who's finally healthy, but has never been that way since they drafted him. Rudi Johnson -- and you have to use first names with this team -- and his chronic hamstring are showing the Bengals staff and the league that he simply can't be counted on, forcing a time share at best and a reshuffling at worst. Given the salary-cap realities, Johnson could even be cut loose. It looks like Cincy is just another of the towns where the lack of a clear feature back will have an effect on the whole offense and the shape of fantasy drafts.