But in Baltimore, they have one in Willis McGahee. Yes, he's a bit fragile and coming off a preseason that may have opened the door for LeRon McClain and Ray Rice, but I think John Harbaugh might be showing us the future.
The RB position is the most replaceable on the field, one that Ryan Grant epitomizes. Grant couldn't make the Giants last year, essentially being dismissed as their fifth-best RB in being traded to the Packers. A couple injuries later, Grant was a fantasy darling and carrying the Packers into the playoffs. Was he better? Better line? Better system for his style? Yes, to all of the above, but let's admit that there's a lot of RBs who could succeed in a lot of places.
Knowing this, using a bunch of specialists in the running game should be reasonable. It keeps RBs cheap, easily replaced and it should take some wear and tear off of them. In essence, the RB position on several teams is becoming like a bullpen, a collection of role-playing specialists. You see it in Baltimore, in Oakland, and to some extent, in Dallas. I think I've seen the future, but I'm not sure that it will reduce injuries as much as it will elevate the few real feature backs to epic valuations. That will take data. For now, we'll just look at this week's injuries:
In a normal week, we might see the BenJarvus Green-Ellis/Kevin Faulk backfield get a bit of help from Sammy Morris, who's pulled into the healing lead over LaMont Jordan and is a gametime decision. The short week works against him, leaving the same tandem in place this week for the bulk of tonight's work, but with a long week before the next game, New England's running game could get healthy and Green-Ellis might turn back into a fantasy pumpkin. The Jets have a couple hobbled WRs in Lavaranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, but both should play. Aside from that, there's not much in the way of injuries that should affect this game, aside from the long standing ones that the Pats have adjusted to by now. How they adjust to missing Adalius Thomas will tell us whether the Jets running game gets off again this week, so expect them to try both Thomas Jones and Leon Washington early.
I'll admit that when Williams snapped his patellar tendon last year, I thought it would be the last of him. He was fragile before, with spinal issues that go back to his high school days and was establishing himself as a committee back rather than the feature. Give him some credit here; he's managed to come back, but returning to the game is not returning to level, and it's not going to make him any less fragile. Despite an injury to Graham -- a minor knee sprain -- Williams was activated because of the PUP rules, not because he's ready to come in and be a gamechanger. Play? Yes, he will, but not much for the next few weeks. How Jon Gruden works him in will be a function of what Williams can do to help the Bucs, and that's something Gruden is very good at. The biggest unknown here is how Williams' speed and stopping ability was affected by the repairs. For this week, it's likely to be a committee approach with Gruden hinting that Williams may be inactive.
The Rams continue to be very conservative with Jackson, describing him as day-to-day after keeping him out of last week's game. The quad strain's location appears to be the real problem, with the proximity to the patellar tendon causing an issue. All the symptoms match up, including pain at the start and end of workouts, plus a "creaky" knee as described by Jackson himself. While we shouldn't trust Jackson given his earlier statements on his readiness, the tendon involvement explains why his return is going slowly and why his forcing himself on the field was such a bad idea, setting his full return back significantly. In essence, the Rams havwe been forced to treat one injury in two ways -- as they would for a muscle strain and as they would for a tendon strain. The treatment isn't significantly different, but the recovery period and recurrence risk is, which leads to the conservative treatment. We'll have to see if Jackson can practice on it this week, as Jim Haslett isn't going to let him on the field without a couple solid practices. He made it through Wednesday's practice, splitting carries with Antonio Pittman, so that's a positive.
People are making a very big deal about Romo still feeling pain when he's making throws. The question here isn't comfort, it's function and recovery. So far, no one has reported that Romo isn't making the bulk of the necessary throws off the tree or that he's having difficulty sustaining the level he's at. The one thing not replicated in practice is contact, which is, of course, the main risk, but splinted, Romo should be fine. The thing I'll be looking for is whether he has touch, the part of a QB's game that can be most affected by grip. The Cowboys are also a bit iffy on whether Jones will be available. He's a speed guy, so a slower recovery than average isn't that much of a surprise, especially given the severity of his hamstring strain. Jones hasn't practiced yet this week and appears to be pointed toward a Week 12 return.
Rather than taking a week off to rest his shoulder as some were suggesting, Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin think more practice is the trick. Actually, the trick might be keeping Big Ben upright. The Steelers did it pretty well last week and early results are pretty solid, with Roethlisberger launching deep throws at Wednesday's practice. Saying that Roesthlisberger needs rest is true, but it's more true that he needs to stop re-injuring the shoulder. If that's a new max-protect scheme or a week off, it's still the same goal and one that the Steelers will have to figure out. The shoulder injury isn't serious, just nagging and given his play late in the game last Sunday, it's also pretty clear that it wears down.
The Redskins rushing attack has some problems. Portis has an MCL sprain, this year's "it" injury, while Ladell Betts is still banged up. That leaves Shaun Alexander -- or, as we call it here, "nothing." Portis' knee has gotten worse, according to Jim Zorn, during the bye week, an odd choice of words. Rest shouldn't make things worse, so what do we have with this sprain? Portis' health and sanity are always in question, but seldom his talent. The real mystery is where this sprain came from. He was playing on a mildly sprained ankle and had a rough week rushing, but still put up big yardage in Week 9. Most wouldn't notice that Portis is just behind Adrian Peterson in both rushing yards and carries while being more valuable using our advanced measures, but most would agree that Portis has been very effective this season despite his normal dings and dents. Worse, Portis is saying he can't straighten his knee ... but that doesn't match up at all with an MCL sprain. Ah, but it's the bruise that Portis is also dealing with that's causing that symptom and one that few are talking about. The lesser injury is the bigger problem, and Portis is very questionable this week.
The Saints are coming off a crushing loss to the Falcons and seem to be one of those teams who are losing chemistry as losses pile up. It's easy to point fingers when things are going badly, and let's face it, the Saints aren't nearly as good as anyone expected, even with Drew Brees putting up MVP numbers. Getting Bush back might help on the field and could take some of the pressure off him from teammates, many of whom are still perturbed that he can make all of his social engagements and public appearances, but can't seem to get through a full practice a couple weeks after minor knee surgery. He's expected back this week, but not expected to take his normal load of carries and targets.
Willie Parker practiced with a shoulder harness, but seems good to go this Sunday against the Chargers ... Kyle Orton has improved, but while publicly saying "game time" the Bears are planning for another Rex Grossman start ... Tom Brady was back practicing with the Pats, in a way. It is a good sign that he's past the infection ... Matt Hasselbeck seems ready to return, but back injuries have a way of recurring, so be careful and keep your backup around ... JaMarcus Russell will start this weekend assuming his knee has no further problems ... Darren McFadden will play, but be used as a change of pace, not a timeshare ... Selvin Young doesn't look like he'll recover from a groin strain quickly enough to get to play, leaving Tatum Bell to start ... Steve Slaton has seemed to hit a wall, but he's healthy. Like dead arm in pitchers, dead legs isn't that big a negative in the longer term ... Reggie Wayne is fine despite a mild ankle sprain and some lingering effects from a minor knee sprain ... Deion Branch is expected to start this week, though he's not 100 percent.