While the NFL and NFLPA looks into the Colt McCoy situation -- more on that below -- others are making progress regarding the concussion issue.
Julian Swearingen knows a bit about the game. He played in the Rose Bowl as a Michigan Wolverine three times before becoming an attorney. He's now the President of the Downtown Giants football league, which is looking into a concussion policy that goes well beyond anything the NFL -- or any other league -- is doing. The league is considering a protocol that would disqualify any player who suffered a second concussion before the age of 12. Swearingen and his fellow officials believe that with a player population of kids who don't have the access to medical care that NFL players do, it's a sound policy. While it's hard to argue with that, I asked a current NFL player, one with a son playing junior high school football, what he thought of it. His first reaction was decidedly negative. "It's punishing the kid," he said, "and guaranteeing headhunting. Kids will know. Coaches will know. If a kid's had one [concussion] and he's good, they'll go for the knockout." There's clearly a need for some kind of policy that steps up and tries to protect kids.
"The NFL is rich grown men with world class doctors," said Swearingen. "I am working with families that don't have health insurance. It's only a game! Why risk a third football related brain injury?" Swearingen has seen first-hand how serious the consequences can be for former teammates who have dealt with concussions and is hoping to stop the next generation from experiencing the same thing.
The current policy for concussions for Swearingen's league is as follows: "Should DGYF become aware that any player has suffered a concussion of any grade or severity, that player will be pulled out of the game or practice and will miss the next game at a minimum. The player's treating physician and a second, independent neurologist must sign a document that states that they are aware of the concussion and that continued participation in football is safe for the player." That policy could be expanded upon by the second concussion proviso.
In a week where I'll be joined by Dr. Douglas Casa at a conference to discuss the new position paper on preventing sudden death in youth sports put out by the NATA, this topic is one that's going to need a lot more discussion. The Downtown Giants have an extreme, but interesting position and one that will draw much reaction from around the football world.
UPGRADE: Maurice Jones-DrewDOWNGRADE: Blaine Gabbert, Mike Thomas
This should be an interesting game. On one side, the Jags don't have much in the way of WRs, with Mike Thomas out after a concussion, hurt by the short week. On the other, the Falcons have injuries to both starting cornerbacks. It puts Blaine Gabbert in an interesting situation, but most likely helps Maurice Jones-Drew again, giving him more touches and more carries. The Jags clearly aren't worried about any remaining effects from Jones-Drew's knee surgery at this stage. The Falcons WRs are still listed on the OIR, but all three should play normally. Michael Turner also looks to play normally as he continues to progress after a minor groin strain.
Team president Mike Holmgren didn't do himself or his team any favors in Wednesday's press conference discussing McCoy. Holmgren said several things that raised questions during his discussion of how McCoy's concussion was -- perhaps -- missed and then later treated.
Holmgren said that forces acted against the diagnosis. First, some medical staff (athletic trainers and/or doctors) were dealing with other injuries, including a previous concussion to Ben Watson and another injury on the play in which McCoy took the helmet-to-helmet hit from James Harrison. Upon first reaching McCoy, the ATs said that McCoy was conscious and complaining of hand pain. Holmgren then said that the NFL observer didn't call down to the sideline, as he assumed the situation was under control. (This is the first I've heard of the NFL having any sort of observer with the ability to call down and talk to the medical staff. This is something new. But there is a major issue here in that the observer is usually a retired official, not someone with any medical training or experience.) Holmgren then said that McCoy was not checked on the sidelines for a concussion, but later added that Head Trainer Joe Sheehan personally cleared McCoy to return with Pat Shurmur. (My assumption is that Sheehan cleared the hand injury, but this was unclear from Holmgren.) Finally, Holmgren said that McCoy had no symptoms of a concussion until after he had an X-ray on his hand after the game. McCoy had light sensitivity and was startled by loud noises, two clear signs of concussion. Even after that, Holmgren wasn't clear on whether McCoy was tested for concussion.
This explanation ignores the fact that everyone on the Browns sideline somehow missed the hit, despite the crowd's oohs and ahhs on top of several in-stadium Jumbotron replays. I hope Holmgren did better in his meeting with the NFL and NFLPA than he did in this press conference, which was problematic at best. Flat out, the Browns missed this one, but didn't seem to work to hard to catch up either. Part of the blame has to go to McCoy if he wasn't honest about his symptoms, but then again, he was concussed at the time. McCoy has not practiced or been cleared to do so, making him unlikely to play this weekend.
Is it not enough that Roethlisberger is a Super Bowl-winning QB? There are rumblings from Pittsburgh about Roethlisberger's injuries, both the ankle and the thumb, that smack of myth-building rather than fact-checking. Roethlisberger went down last Thursday with what looked like a terrible leg injury, coming back on the field Willis Reed style and leading his team to victory. That should be enough to make it his bloody sock or Jack Lambert game.
When the news came out that Roethlisberger had a Grade I high ankle sprain, some people seemed to think that a milder injury would take the legend down a notch. I don't think so; anyone who watched the game saw what kind of disadvantage Roethlisberger had with his lack of mobility. The same whispers came with discussion of Roethlisberger's thumb fracture, which was said to be closer to the base, like Jay Cutler's injury. Again, this goes against the known facts and serves only the legend. What Roethlisberger is doing is impressive enough to not need any bump from his sycophants. Roethlisberger is expected to play Monday night, though he'll likely have less mobility than normal. He's already shown that won't stop him.
The Vikings got a look at Peterson on Wednesday and said positive things. Peterson ran and participated in drills. Again, that's not very indicative. It's not the running that's hard to come back from after a high ankle sprain. It's starting, stopping, and cutting. Peterson hasn't done any of that yet, but there's plenty of time, especially with the Vikings willing to go all the way to game time on Sunday. What's acting against Peterson is the lingering nature of this injury, the relative effectiveness of Toby Gerhart, the chance that Christian Ponder won't play and the Vikings' 2-11 record. No team will say it is tanking, but the Vikings and Rams are fighting to be the team that just missed out on Andrew Luck. If Peterson plays, the Vikings will likely be very conservative with him, letting Gerhart take a big share of the carries. This is one that will have to be watched very closely all week, right up to roster lock.
Jennings sprained his MCL, which leaves Aaron Rodgers with only 98 weapons instead of 99. Jennings is done for the regular season, but with the team locked into the playoffs and home field advantage, they're only playing for perfection now and are likely to take their foot off the gas some. Jennings' injury has a good comp in the recent injury to LaDanian Tomlinson, who was able to come back quickly. They're similar physically and skill-wise as well. Matt Forte, who also had minor ACL involvement, is less of a comparable. Jennings should be able to come back for the playoff run with little or no issue. In the meantime, James Jones and Randall Cobb will get more work.
The fact that the Raiders are saying that McFadden has a Lisfranc sprain rather than a midfoot sprain is one of semantics. Hue Jackson tried to argue that a Lisfranc sprain implies a surgical fix, which is just another reason coaches shouldn't be the ones talking about medical issues. McFadden's injury continues to linger and there are no signs that he's making enough progress to return. A loss to the Lions this week would all but end the Raiders' playoff hopes, which would likely lead to McFadden being shut down. McFadden broke out this season, but also broke down again. It's the one skill that he doesn't have that holds back all the ones he does. Until he can prove he can stay healthy, he can't be considered a top tier back in the NFL.
Manning is throwing a football. It's hard to believe that's big news, but it really is. Manning had been throwing previously, but this is more. According to sources, Manning is not just throwing, but throwing to teammates. "It's more tossing than throwing," said one source who has seen Manning throwing, "but it's routes. He gets a receiver to jog through a route and lobs it in. It's good to see but I don't know how much you can take away, other than it being a lot better than it was back at the start of camp." Manning is finally back at a point where things are on schedule, if not trending positive. With progress comes new questions. Manning will have to answer before throwing harder, on crisper routes and testing his arm's ability to make NFL throws. He'll eventually hit a wall, maybe even have setbacks, but with a deadline for a decision on his contract coming in February, the Super Bowl might not be the biggest story in Indianapolis come February.
Jay Cutler's thumb is making "some progress, but slow." He's never exactly been Hustla Da Rabbit when it comes to work ethic ... Kevin Kolb has not yet been cleared to practice (as of Wednesday) but he's expected to have that happen. Whether he plays remains to be seen and isn't entirely based on how his head is doing ... Matt Hasselbeck isn't back at practice. The Titans liked what they saw from Jake Locker and could give him a confidence boost by starting him against the Colts ... Christian Ponder is on track for a start this week, though Joe Webb showed enough that he could get some gadget looks ... Sam Bradford is still having a lot of problems with lateral mobility. Have I mentioned that high ankle sprains have a tendency to linger? ... Matt Moore looks unlikely to be cleared after his severe concussion last week. J.P. Losman will get the start ... Matt Forte is out this week, but the real news is that he's made little progress, meaning he may not be back until the playoffs ... Frank Gore will play, but the Niners will look to keep his workload low to prep for the playoffs ... Kevin Smith was out again at practice on Wednesday, another reminder about how long high ankle sprains linger ... Worrying about DeMarco Murray as a keeper? Don't. The fractured ankle is enough to keep him out the rest of this season, but he should be fine for next year ... Javon Ringer had surgery on his hand, which means Jamie Harper could be the one picking up garbage time points against the Colts this week ... Denarius Moore was back at practice, the first positive sign for the Raiders WR in a while ... Jimmy Graham practiced on Wednesday. It's a good sign, but back spasms are unpredictable. Keep an eye on him right up to game time ... Ray Lewis was back at practice, but the Ravens will be very conservative with him. They know they need him more in January than in December ... See you on Friday and Sunday for chats.