The NFLPA is being held to task for raising valid questions about the hGH tests that they agreed to in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement. While they seem like details to most, the questions raise important issues about the effectiveness of a test that's already questionable in terms of both science and practicality, namely, is the test the best available and is it beatable?
While the NFL wants to use the isoform test in place this season, USADA and WADA officials are touting a new, better test, hoping to have it in place for the 2012 Olympics, just months away. That test, which uses biomarkers instead of isoforms, is more readily accepted by the scientific community. Don Catlin, the man who developed the test for THG, known as "the clear" in the BALCO scandal, says that the isoform test is "simply not useful." The biomarker test has been around since the late 1990s, but is only now being accepted by WADA. Why? WADA wanted to develop its own test, taking years and spending millions to do so. The biomarker test also has a significantly longer detectable period, up to 21 days, whereas the isoform test works for, at best, 48 hours.
Worse, that test is easily beaten. The current in-use isoform test looks for one specific type of GH molecule, one known scientifically as 22 kDa (kilodaltons). The body creates variants from 20 kDa up to 24 kDa. While most exogenous hGH is at the 22 kDa level, it's very possible to create it at other levels. One scientist very familiar with the testing told me, "Growth Hormone Releasing Peptides will mask GH use, as will Growth Hormone Two. They still don't have a test for Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), and that's where GH gets it's anabolic properties. It's like WADA just decided to forget that there's a million other untestable drugs, [and] launched a PR campaign to tell everyone that they can now detect GH abuse and how they've finally scared the boogeyman out from under the bed."
There's a better test coming, one that should be available in time for the 2012 season or before. (There are even suggestions that WADA has begun using the biomarker test in "surveillance mode," a secret testing in which athletes are not made aware of its use.) The biomarker test has none of the questions that the current isoform test has, is more accurate, and is less beatable.
That problem solved, let's get to the injuries:
Stafford left Sunday's game limping, kind of a symbol of the last couple weeks for the Lions as well as a worry going forward. Stafford, not exactly known for durability, took a tough hit that didn't look as dramatic as Matt Ryan's cringe-inducing injury, but Stafford doesn't have whatever magic saved Ryan. Instead, he has a significant sprain of his ankle and a bruise on his knee from falling on it. He was able to practice on Wednesday, but was very tender and not mobile. The Lions will get Shaun Hill ready to play, but hope that Stafford's time with the medical staff will get him ready by Sunday. Expect this one to go right down to game time.
The ankle is not supposed to bend that way. The only reason Ryan is back on the field and not coming out of surgery is that his foot wasn't planted. While it did twist strongly, you'll see (if you have a strong enough stomach to watch the tape) that just a beat after the ankle bends, Ryan falls with the force, allows his knee (and knee brace) to take some of the force and goes down. Still, he took a lot of force, so its surprising there's not more damage. Whether Ryan was taped or using a laceup ankle brace, it wasn't enough to stop the drastic eversion. Ryan's lucky, but I'm curious if Ryan has had previous ankle problems that led to some laxity. Everyone will want to watch to make sure he practices normally, but he's expected to start on Sunday.
The Texans got Johnson back at practice, but he's not yet doing everything we'd want to see before a game. He's got a couple more days of practice to show the kind of acceleration and cutting he'd need to be fully game-ready, and players have played in situations like this. Teams can game plan around injuries, but usually that happens when a player is on a sore leg and has a hard time cutting in one direction. Teams will hold off routes with hard cuts and try to "Z" them into routes. Johnson's biggest issues will be stopping and starting, as well as accelerating out of cuts, so we're in wait-and-see mode on that. He's a must start if he plays and would upgrade Matt Schaub as well.
If McFadden had an action figure, when you pulled the string, it would fall down with some sort of injury. When he's healthy, he's among the best in the league, but that talent only taunts you when he's out and you're scrambling for replacements. The latest injury is a sprained foot, but the Raiders aren't clarifying matters. Saying that "there's no structural damage in his sprained foot" sure makes me wonder when ligaments stopped being structures. A sprain, by definition, is an injury to a ligament, so you can't say one without the other. McFadden remains in a walking boot and is unlikely to practice this week, but the team is on bye, so we're left with very little indication about where he is physically. We should know a lot more early next week, but Michael Bush should be on your radar as a handcuff for moves next week.
Wells' injury isn't as mystifying as the one to McFadden. What we know about Wells' knees and the symptoms allows us to make an educated guess without going all Sherlock Holmes on it. Wells is said to have no structural issues, but has pain and swelling. The initial reports were a bone bruise, which was denied. If this sounds familiar to you, you're probably a Mets or Indians fan. What Wells has is most likely a bone-on-bone situation in which the bones of his leg are grinding together, creating pain, swelling and small chips that are floating through the knee. This condition is chronic, and while there are things that can be done -- bracing, lubricants -- the usual result at this point is microfracture surgery. Wells' situation will be one of maintenance and function in the short term, but having Alfonso Smith on backup is a good idea if you're counting on Wells' production.
The Redskins took three tough losses on top of losing the game to the Panthers. Hightower tried to tell people that he thought his knee would be fine, but an MRI showed that the ACL was torn and his season is done. (For the record, there's not significantly more ACL sprains this year, or more injuries overall in a year to year comparison.) Hightower should be back for next season, but it takes one element out of the confusing RB situation in D.C. Roy Helu should be the main beneficiary, though Ryan Torain is at the top of the depth chart now. In talking with team sources, it's likely that Helu is moving from the bottom of a 50-35-15 split of touches into something closer to 60-40 or even 50-50.
Moss broke a bone in his hand -- it's unclear which one -- but had two pins placed in the bone on Monday. Estimates early were that he'd miss up to seven weeks, but the Skins are revising that down a bit. It's more an issue of function, since his hands and their ability to both grasp and accept a fall's energy are key to his position. Sources I spoke with think it's more likely that Moss misses a month, but that the team's record will likely guide his return as much as the hand.
Finally, Cooley was pushed to the IR with a finger injury. It was a pretty gruesome one, but combined with his chronic knee problems and Fred Davis' play, it was an easy decision for the Redskins to make.
The Colts put Kerry Collins on the IR, hoping everyone won't notice how he came in or how he went out ... Sam Bradford won't test his ankle until Friday, but signs are the Rams will have another week of A.J. Feeley at QB ... Felix Jones' high ankle sprain seems like it's on the mild side, but with DeMarco Murray exploding, the Cowboys will give Jones plenty of time. Jones might be a bit more impatient ... Earnest Graham ruptured his Achilles on the jump stop. It's one of those freak occurrences and had nothing to do with the Wembley turf. LeGarrette Blount should be ready in Week 9 ... Marshawn Lynch's last minute scratch was a real weird scenario, but he's back at practice and expected to play Sunday. Just be careful. You've seen the risk ... Willis McGahee will have the bone on the outside of his hand pinned together. It's a tough place to protect, but I'm sure the folks from EvoShield are on the phone with Denver ... Peyton Hillis practiced on Wednesday and it sounds as if he's out of the doghouse a bit. Expect him to start if he makes it through the week's practices healthy ... Joseph Addai didn't last long despite getting the "start" against the Saints. It sounds like the Colts didn't expect him to. The good news is that he could be similarly ready for this week's division game against the Titans, if you can call that good news ... Hines Ward looks to miss much of practice this week due to a sprained ankle. He's very questionable for Sunday, which upgrades Antonio Brown ... Greg Jennings' bruised hand doesn't appear to be a major concern, but note that Aaron Rodgers throws the ball hard ... Braylon Edwards was back at practice and looks to be ready for Week 8. It will be interesting to see how Edwards cuts into Michael Crabtree's targets ... Percy Harvin's ribs continue to be an issue, but I'm told his pain management is more of an issue than the injury, which translates to "he won't take the shot" ... Antonio Gates made it through last week pretty well, playing just as expected. Look to sell high, but he did run visibly better than I expected ... Jason Smith will have more tests on his neck this week. The concussion is also a major worry, given his history. The Rams will be very patient with his recovery, given their record ... If Terrell Owens can do all this just six months post-ACL surgery, maybe it's time to readjust the timeline again. 9-12 months might be 6-9 very soon, especially for "pure" ACL tears (no MCL or meniscus tears).