"Have we reached the limits of the human body?"
That was the question I asked after Sunday's casualty-laden Week 1. With players spending the last two decades getting bigger, stronger and faster, the hits have gotten bigger, the fatigue has come faster, but the ability to hold up is not stronger. There is, somewhere, a genetic maximum, different for each player on what they can take. Dr. Ralph Gambardella, the head of the world-renowned Kerlan-Jobe Clinic agrees. "'I'm of the opinion that science and technology if used properly will allow us to reach new heights, but we must at the same time be cognizant of our individual limits."
With year-round "voluntary" camps, minicamps, workouts and more, fatigue is setting in earlier, leaving the muscles that support joints tired and less able to stabilize. The mind isn't able to react quickly enough, leaving players in the wrong place in the wrong position. It could well be that everything coaches are trying to do to prepare players is leading, indirectly, to the sheer number and severity of the injuries we're having today. I'm asking around, so I'm hoping to get a better answer to this question soon. Without an historical database, I can't say for sure, but the trend lines don't look good. It gives us plenty to talk about this week, and sadly, throughout the season, so let's get to the state of the latest injuries:
Young is taking this knee injury way too hard. The MCL sprain he suffered isn't that bad and normally would cost him between two and four weeks. Young has always been able to heal relatively quickly and to play through pain, so his response here is a little odd. Young's desire will directly impact his rehab and any delay could cause bigger problems and a longer period of absence. Once he's back, his lateral movement should be affected slightly, which makes far more of a difference for a mobile QB than a pocket passer. There's some question about whether that would be better, though the fact that former Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who wanted to turn Young into more of a pocket guy, is gone tells us how well that plan worked. Young becomes an imminently risky player to have on your roster right now and creates a statement that would have been unthinkable in draft season: Young might not be as good an option as Tarvaris Jackson.
The Bucs didn't waste time letting everyone know that Garcia would be out this week. The ankle sprain, combined with a line that got him knocked down eight times, made it clear to Jon Gruden that his best option was to go with Brian Griese. Garcia's ankle sprain was limiting his mobility enough early in the week that the decision was made that accelerating the rehab -- being very aggressive with treatment, bracing and other techniques -- would be counterproductive in the long term. While Garcia is not expected to miss much time, using the week off to work on his timing. Gruden seemed more concerned with Garcia's lack of timing than he did the ankle, so that's actually a good sign going forward.
"It bent all the way backward." That cringe-inducing quote tells you all you need to about the severity of Colston's thumb injury. The mechanism was brutal, but the surgery to reattach the ligaments and tendons is pretty straightforward. Now, Colston will work in rehab, but there's a couple factors that will help determine when he comes back. First, his QB, Drew Brees, has some touch. It will affect the routes he's able to use, but as long as he's not seeing the fastball, Colston could return more quickly. The medical staff will also work on protective but functional bracing. How Colston adjusts to that will be a big factor. Recently, we've seen players who have played in a cast and others who can't play with tape, so there's a broad spectrum, and it's impossible to tell until Colston gets a lot closer to return. For a guy who catches nearly 70 percent of balls thrown his way, he's got good hands.
The Jags might be trying to emulate the Colts on the field, but this is not what they meant. Just like the Colts, the Jags now have a very thin interior line due to a tough sequence of injuries on and off the field, from losing Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams, to missing Brad Meester and the shooting of backup lineman Richard Collier. That move well down the depth chart and the resulting problems of communication and cooperation, combined with a tough Titans defense, had the Jags offense in a mess. Still, they have time to adjust, and many figure that Dirk Koetter will use David Garrard's mobility to try to avoid a tough Bills defense. The stat to watch will be quarterback hits, but the fantasy upside might be rushing yards for Garrard. You'll want to downgrade Fred Taylor a bit, since he's more reliant on the line than Maurice Jones-Drew.
Yes, it's possible not to lead with Brady. By now, you all know the prognosis. When I initially saw the hit on Brady, my first thought was "that could be worse." I quickly learned the danger of judging anything from one angle, one look and from a distance. I didn't hear (or see) Brady's scream. The initial angle I saw was the high end zone corner shot, one that made it appear that Bernard Pollard had hit Brady's knee head on, pushing it back. The sideline angle that I didn't see until the pregame of the Sunday night game gave a much different story and reminded me why it's so dangerous to make snap judgments.
The hit came from the outside of the knee with Brady's knee caving in medially and then twisting. When you watch the play and compare it to Wheeless' notes on ACL tears, you'll see why I didn't initially believe that the ACL was at risk. Moreover, it didn't appear that Brady's foot was planted or "locked in" by his cleats when the hit occurred.
A doctor I spoke with Tuesday night still doesn't understand how the ACL tore on that hit and wonders if Brady had previous damage to the knee, though there's no indication that was the case. As everyone in the free world knows, Brady is having imaging done today, though manual tests indicate at least an ACL tear. There's no question that Brady will be ready to return next year, but we don't know how the associated damage was fixed yet -- strains to the MCL, tears in the meniscus -- and those go a long way toward determining how a player returns. Given the time, Brady's work ethic and his style of play, I don't anticipate any problems as he returns. Of course, we still don't know exactly what Brady damaged and what he will have repaired, or even who will perform the surgery, so there's still a lot of "unknown unknowns" to deal with before we have a clear picture of his return path.
The line play last week left something to be desired for the Colts. Putting a three-deep guy or two against a physical, complex defense is just a terrible matchup, and given that, the results might not be so bad. The Colts aren't waiting to see if it gets better, pushing Jeff Saturday back to the practice field and maybe onto the game field as early as this Saturday. Sources tell me that it's up to Saturday whether he's comfortable enough to play on a severely sprained MCL, but we all know that when asked, players will play through almost anything. Assuming Saturday doesn't swell up after practice or show mobility issues, I'd expect him to play, though we'll know more well before the Med Check. His status will affect the entire offense.
The news is pretty good for Clark. There are no structural issues, leaving many to think that Clark has a meniscal tear of some degree or a mild sprain. He's expected to play, though the Colts are using a lot of three-wide sets and even some two-back looks, an indication that Clark might not play as much as normal. It's also notable that Joseph Addai was not listed on the Wednesday OIR.
McGahee was active, but didn't play last week. For those who are wondering, that counts as far as the NFL injury calculations work as a game played for purposes of monitoring the OIR. McGahee's knee continues to progress from preseason surgery and figures to have him back in the lineup this week. He'll likely get the start, though it's clear that Ray Rice will continue to get touches. Rice's size isn't going to help him get goalline touches, so call that an advantage for McGahee. I'll have a lot more information on Sunday morning, but expect a pure timeshare at this point. McGahee's work in practice Thursday and Friday will determine if he can take on more of the load.
It's not bad enough that Hasselbeck has a sore back, a banged up line and no receivers to throw to now that Nate Burleson joins Bobby Engram and Deion Branch on the sidelines. Now there's speculation that Seneca Wallace might be the better option. The Seahawks are using Wallace as punt returner, and are talking about pushing him to WR, but there's also some push inside the team to use Wallace in more of a "slash" role. That would be a big step and an admission that Hasselbeck simply can't be protected enough to execute the offense. While Hasselbeck will start and has the same injury risk as last week, the positional risk goes way up. Just like a RB who might lose touches loses value, a QB that loses snaps is the same.
Burleson is done for the season, but the team still cut Jordan Kent. That's not a good sign ... This is going to sound wrong, but did Michael Turner's butt get bigger? I mean a lot bigger ... Darren McFadden's reported shoulder injury was just a stinger. He'll be fine for Week 2, which is more than I can say for the Raiders ... I spoke of Hasselbeck's problems above, but with Rob Sims on IR with a torn pec, things don't look good for his protection. That he kept playing with the injury is pretty astounding -- and crazy ... Shawne Merriman has called it a year, saying that it was simply too painful and he wasn't mobile enough to be effective. Early word from observers is that he had lost range, but the injury really shouldn't have affected his speed as much as his lateral mobility and edge rush ... Sean Jones will have surgery on his knee, leaving the Browns secondary very thin. The Browns also lost Antwan Peek for the season so the Browns offense might get a boost, especially in the passing game. They'll be behind a lot ... Donté Stallworth is out this week, but the quad strain shouldn't keep him out much longer than that ... Maurice Morris is out at least three weeks with a sprained knee, leaving the touches to Julius Jones ... Brodie Croyle is out for at least a month after separating his shoulder. His response will come from how strong the muscles around here and his pain tolerance ... Mike Nugent is out for Week 2 due to a quad strain. He's not expected to miss much more than a week ... Kudos to Bill Polian for doing the right thing, even when it hurts his team in the short term. It's not just the Colts line that's hurting, it's the line coach. Longtime line guru Howard Mudd had knee surgery, so Pete Metzelaars will handle the challenge for a few weeks ... Be sure to check back in on Sunday morning for the last minute med check, because you can't know what's going to happen on Sunday if you publish on Saturday!