NFL Preseason Injuries That Have GMs Sweating
The NFL is back, and even though the preseason games mean nothing to a team's record, the excitement is in the air. The owners are collecting “free” money, the fans are smack talking and players are getting a chance to showcase their skills.
But somewhere, sitting in a sky box, alone or with his closest confidants, sits your team's general manager or head of personnel. While he may be hoping for the next undrafted college find like Tony Romo or Victor Cruz, the sad truth is that 90 percent of the roster is decided before the preseason games start. These men watch the games anxiously, praying to the football gods that none of their stars get injured.
Not only do injuries play a major factor in roster decisions, but they can have huge implications on the salary cap as well. With medical issues such as concussions becoming such a hot-button topic in the world of sports, even the most minor injuries are dissected.
Here is a list of injuries that have already begun to make front-office personnel get their “emergency” boards ready.
Chicago Bears Linebacker Brian Urlacher
The heart and soul of the Bears defense missed a majority of the offseason with a knee injury. Now, the Chicago Tribune is reporting that Urlacher could miss a majority of the preseason as well.
This is horrible news for Bears fans. Urlacher is a true professional, and in reality, does not need much practice time to prepare. But, if the Pro Bowl linebacker is truly injured, the Bears defense takes a major hit.
Steady Nick Roach would probably slide over from his strong-side position to man the middle. This would leave Geno Hayes to fill in at the “Sam” linebacker spot. The injury to Urlacher weakens two positions. Bears fans need to hope Chicago is just being cautious with Urlacher.
Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Miles Austin
Austin is out again with a lingering hamstring injury. The same injury cost the former Pro Bowler six games in 2011. The Cowboys' medical staff will need to be extra cautious to make sure Austin does not let this injury linger into the regular season.
The Cowboys simply cannot afford to have Austin out for an extended period of time. Not only does he need to work on his timing with quarterback Tony Romo, but the depth at the receiver position for the Cowboys is desperately thin.
Take oft-troubled Dez Bryant out of the equation and the Cowboys have only ONE NFL start among the other nine receivers on the roster. That lack of experience could make for a long season for Dallas fans.
New York Jets Wide Receiver Santonio Holmes
Much like the Dallas Cowboys, the Jets receiving corps is short on experience. Out of the 11 players listed at receiver on the Jets' depth chart minus Holmes, there are a total 21 NFL games started. Nineteen of those starts belong to Chaz Schilens over four seasons.
Holmes has a bruised rib and has been out for only a short time, but the former Super Bowl MVP is doubtful for the first preseason game and may miss more time depending on his healing rate. Schilens has missed time this preseason with a groin issue and key reserve Jeremy Kerley has missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury.
The timing between Holmes and quarterback Mark Sanchez has been affected due to the injury. In a new offensive system, timing and precision of routes are paramount. The Jets' success lies in the hands of their medical staff the rest of this preseason.
Arizona Cardinals Running Back Ryan Williams
The word out of the Cardinals camp is that the 2011 second-round draft pick is healthy and ready to go. Yet, Williams sat out the Hall of Fame game on a coaching decision. Until Williams can show, at game speed, that he's all the way back from the torn patella tendon that cost him his rookie season, the jury is still out.
The depth of the Cardinals' backfield is thin at best. With last year’s starter, Beanie Wells, still on the physically unable to perform list, Arizona is starting undersized LaRod Stephens-Howling. How Williams performs in the next four preseason games will tell Cardinals fans all they need to know about the future of their backfield.
New Orleans Cornerback Jabari Greer
Greer, the Saints’ best cover cornerback, is out the rest of the preseason after having sports hernia surgery last week. The Saints’ front office and coaches are optimistic the eight-year veteran will be available for Week 1 of the regular season.
Saints fans need to be concerned with this time frame. This is the second time since 2009 that Greer has had this same procedure. He missed seven games after sports hernia surgery during the 2009 season.
The Saints do not have a lot of experience at the cornerback position and need Greer to be available as soon as possible.
Cleveland Browns Linebacker Chris Gocong
Gocong may not be a household name, and according to Profootballfocus.com, was only the 36th best outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. But Gocong did record 70 tackles for the Browns last season and was the emotional leader.
With outside linebacker Scott Fujita missing the first three games due to his involvement in the alleged Bountygate, the loss of Gocong is huge. The depth of the linebacking corps in Cleveland will be pushed to the max.
Young linebackers Kaluka Maiava, James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho will all need to step up their games if the Browns want to improve on being one of the worst run defending teams in the NFL a year ago.
Tennessee Titans Center Eugene Amano
Amano was getting pushed for the starting center position in 2012 by backup Kevin Matthews, but a torn right tricep muscle has shelved the two-year starter for the season. Even if Matthews had won the job outright, having Amano on the bench for depth would have been a luxury for the Titans.
Amano has started 68 games in his NFL career, including all 16 games for the Titans last season. His loss to injury costs Tennessee in experience and toughness. It may also signal the end of the nine-year career for the veteran with the club.
Cincinnati Bengals Running Back Bernard Scott
Though Scott is listed as the backup to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the NFL is a two-back league and having quality depth is vital. Scott rushed for over 380 yards last season with three touchdowns. Heading into his fourth season, Scott was expected to compete with Green-Ellis for carries.
But sustaining a hand injury that head coach Marvin Lewis called an “owie" (Joe Reedy and Kevin Kelly of Cincinnati.com) is not a good way to endear himself to his teammates or fans. Scott is expected to miss the rest of the preseason and may end up losing a roster spot as well.
Explanation of PUP and NFI
Players on Physically Unable to Perform (PUP)
A player who fails his club’s preseason physical because of a prior football injury may be placed, by the club, on the Physically Unable to Perform List (PUP).
For a three-week period beginning with the day after the club’s sixth regular-season game and ending after the ninth regular-season game, a player on PUP may practice with the club and/or be restored to his club’s active/inactive list.
Non-Football Injury or Illness (NFI)
A player who fails the preseason physical of his club because of an injury or illness unrelated to football may be placed on the Non-Football Injury or Illness List (NFI) if the injury renders him unable to play football.
A player will not be entitled to receive his salary while on NFI and will be prohibited from practicing until the three-week period beginning the day after his club’s sixth regular-season game.
Minnesota Vikings Running Back Adrian Peterson (PUP)
One of the best running backs in NFL is working to come back from an ACL tear in his left knee suffered late last season. While his rehabilitation has made national news, the Vikings are cautiously optimistic Peterson can be ready to go by Week 1 of the regular season.
Even if Peterson cannot play the opening week, look for the Vikings to activate him off the PUP and on to the club’s 53-man roster if they feel he can play before the sixth game. The Vikings need their star healthy, and if they feel as though he needs the full six weeks for recovery, then he could be placed on the regular season PUP list.
Viking fans and fantasy football players alike will be monitoring this situation closely. It is hard having 970 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns for 2011 sitting on the bench.
Baltimore Ravens Outside Linebacker Terrell Suggs (NFI)
The reigning AP Defensive Player of the Year was injured this offseason training/playing basketball. Though, per the NFL rules, the Ravens do not need to pay Suggs’ salary, owner Steve Bisciotti has made the point clear that he will take care of one of his best players.
The loss of Suggs is a tough blow for the Ravens defense who lost opposite starting outside linebacker Jarret Johnson to the San Diego Chargers via free agency.
But, as in years past, the Ravens look to reload with the likes of Paul Kruger, Courtney Upshaw and Sergio Kindle. But make no mistake, the loss of Suggs is a major setback.
New York Giants Wide Receiver Hakeem Nicks (PUP)
Nicks is a Super Bowl champion and one of the best up-and-coming players in the NFL. But, his 2012 season got off to a rocky start when he broke his right foot practicing with the team.
Nicks produced 1,192 yards receiving and seven touchdowns for the Giants in the regular season last year. He added another 444 yards receiving in the playoffs to go along with four touchdowns.
The depth behind Nicks is solid enough for the Giants’ medical staff to take things slow with the North Carolina product. But, for the comfort of head coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning, the Giants hope Nicks is back sooner rather than later.
Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back Rashard Mendenhall (PUP)
Tearing an ACL on January 1 is not the best way to start a new year. But, that's what happened to Mendenhall and why he starts the 2012 NFL season on the PUP list. Mendenhall gained 928 yards rushing last season and scored nine touchdowns. Where the Steelers get that production in 2012 is still up in the air.
Isaac Redman’s only 100-yard game rushing came in the playoff game versus the Broncos in January when he ran for 121 yards. His backups don't have much experience. While the Steelers would like to take their time with Mendenhall, who is in the last year of his contract, the lack of depth at the position may force them to act otherwise.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Left Tackle Donald Penn (NFI)
Penn, a 2011 Pro Bowler, will reportedly miss the entire preseason with a calf strain, according to OneBucSite.com. This is a major concern for new head coach Greg Schiano and his staff. Penn has started all 16 games for Tampa Bay the past four seasons and is responsible for keeping quarterback Josh Freeman from taking shots to the back.
The depth behind Penn is average, at best, and with the injury happening away from the Buccaneers facility, the Bucs put their starting left tackle on the non-football injury list. This is not a great way to get on a first-year head coach's good side.
Cleveland Browns Defensive Tackle Phil Taylor (PUP)
One of the bright spots for the Browns last season, Taylor started all 16 games as a rookie. He finished the season with 59 tackles and four sacks.
But, a defense that finished 10th overall will be without the former Baylor Bear for the foreseeable future as he rehabs a torn pectoral muscle. Taylor was injured lifting weights at the Browns facility in May.
If Taylor can show a propensity toward healing quickly, the Browns defense will greatly benefit from getting him back after Week 6.
Detroit Lions Running Back Jahvid Best (PUP)
The leading rusher for the Detroit Lions in 2011 is out “for weeks,” according to head coach Jim Schwartz (Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press). Best, who only played in six games last season, has concussion issues and will be watched closely by the Lions’ medical staff.
The Lions do not have much depth at the running back position. Second-leading rusher Kevin Smith is back, but he has an extensive injury history as well. The Lions are going to need the defense to play better than it did in 2011. The combination of quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson may continue to set NFL records if Best isn’t ready any time soon.
Pittsburgh Steelers Nose Tackle Casey Hampton (PUP)
The No. 1 defense in the NFL took a big-time blow when the Steelers announced Hampton would start the season on the PUP list. While Hampton is an aging player, he's still one of the best at his position and will be greatly missed.
The Steelers do not ask the nose tackle to be productive in statistical categories, but whoever mans that position must eat up blockers and keep the inside linebackers free. For Dick LeBeau’s defense to work, he better hope either Steve McLendon or rookie Alameda Ta’amu are up to the task.
Washington Redskins Right Tackle Jammal Brown (PUP)
When Brown re-injured his left hip running sprints before training camp started, a frustrated sigh could be heard out of Redskin Park. On an offensive line already shorthanded by the loss of guard Kory Lichtensteiger and hobbling right guard Chris Chester, the loss of Brown is magnified.
The Redskins have a rookie quarterback at the helm in Robert Griffin III and need all the experience they can get in protecting him. If Brown is not healthy enough to start the season, the Redskins’ front office will be scouring the waiver wire and discussing trade scenarios to find offensive line help.
Oakland Raiders Punter Shane Lechler (PUP)
The perennial Pro Bowler is on the preseason PUP after having knee surgery this offseason. He is still "at least a week away," according to Paul Gutierrez of CSN Bay Area.
Finding a punter of Lechler's skill is not easy, but Marquette King has flashed some talent in Lechler’s absence and may get a shot to stick with another team assuming Lechler is activated before the regular season.
New England Patriots Offensive Linemen Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer (PUP)
Both players are solid starters when healthy, and with the retirement of Matt Light, both players will be counted on to protect quarterback Tom Brady. But, Mankins is rehabilitating from offseason knee surgery, and Vollmer has an undisclosed back issue. These injuries caused both players to go on the preseason PUP list.
While there's still time for both to get healthy for the start of the regular season, the more time they miss, the graver the concern in New England. The Patriots do not have much depth at either guard or tackle. This is a situation that has not gotten much national attention, but if neither are back by the last preseason game, look for the story to gain traction.
Philadelphia Eagles Left Tackle Jason Peters (NFI)
Though technically listed as on the NFI list, Peters should eventually be placed on injured reserve. The issue will be whether the Eagles are able to work out a payment structure with Peters that will satisfy both parties.
The scouts at www profootballfocus.com had Peters rated the best offensive tackle in 2011.
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