The Greatest Injury Concern for Every NFL Team Heading into 2012
Dr. James Andrews.
The three words that every NFL player dreads hearing the most.
But, inevitably, a handful of players will be making visits during the 2012 season to see the renowned orthopedic surgeon or others of similar medical ilk.
Injuries will occur. I am concerned. You are concerned. Teams, above all, are concerned.
These are the top injury concerns for each team.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
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Running back Mark Ingram is clearly still the biggest injury concern for the Saints.
Ingram, the first running back selected in the 2011 NFL draft, spent last season on and off the Saints' weekly active roster with a painful cornucopia of lower leg ailments.
I remember an ankle, a heel and a knee with the coup de gras coming in the form of season-ending toe surgery. Ingram's rookie season was a disaster. Of all these injuries, the one that sounds the most benign, a bruised heel, is probably the most debilitating.
I put a bruised heel in the same category I put an ailment like turf toe. It sounds puny, like something a professional athlete should be able to play through. We have no idea. We think to ourselves cynically, "It's a bruise. This is the NFL, you're going to get bumps and bruises. Play through it."
What a "bruised heel" is, in reality, is a violent displacement of the crucial padding that prevents your heel bone from literally grinding against the surfaces you walk, run and cut on with every step. It is a nightmare.
I know from being at Saints camp that Ingram is still being "brought along slowly." I have been told this by both interim head coach Joe Vitt and the man who will serve as interim coach for the first six games, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael.
It is also obvious that Ingram will be relied upon predominantly in first- and second-down situations, spelling Pierre Thomas, and will, by all indications, be the Saints' first option for goal-line touches.
He needs to be present (and free of injury-report designation) for in-season Wednesday practices for first- and second-down installs to be productive in this role. He missed many Wednesday and Thursday installs in 2011, and it set him back greatly. Rookie RBs who want to play on first and second down cannot miss Wednesdays regularly.
If any injury lingers, or becomes a weekly issue again, he will again be held out of Wednesday practices on a regular basis, further hindering the development of the RB who seems to have the most natural ability of any on the Saints roster.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
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The Chiefs have brought in diva RB Peyton Hillis. As many will remember, Hillis sat out for a large portion of last season, nursing a strained contract.
No divas allowed under head coach Romeo Crennel. We will be getting the Hillis of old in Kansas City this season. The Hillis that got him on the cover of Madden. How soon we forget.
I believe in a "rule" studied by my RosterWatch co-founder Byron Lambert. Basically, boiling it down, there is a two-year rule for NFL running backs coming off of reconstructive knee surgery. At this position, if you ever were good, it takes you two years to get back to full form. (He has noted that he believes Adrian Peterson may serve as an exception to the rule this season.)
Jamaal Charles is electric and unbelievable, but I'm not expecting a big season from him in 2012. The Chiefs are concerned about making sure he returns eventually at full force.
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
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Big surprise. The Broncos made a huge move for Manning in a crazy offseason's most exciting storyline, and now they have a major injury concern on their hands.
The Broncos offensive line was not a good pass-blocking unit in 2011. In fact, it was terrible. This doesn't always matter if your last name is Manning. Ask Eli. He stood on a float in February, celebrating a Super Bowl victory alongside the NFL's worst pass-blocking group collectively.
The Manning brothers may not have any real agility to speak of, but they manage to avoid sacks with their brains, utilizing hot reads or just throwing the ball away.
Let me tell you about three words: adjacent segment degeneration. Doctors say that Manning's fused neck is now "stronger than ever." Risks do remain, however. His neck has been fused, meaning, there is basically a rod infused with the bony matter that connects the two effected vertebrae.
This does give "strength" through that area, but also provides two major pressure points on each side of the fusion. One above, one below. If any twisting, grinding or general trauma to the area takes place, the fusion will hold up in a manner different to the immediately adjacent areas. This makes for big trouble and sounds painful to imagine.
Peyton Manning is both the crown jewel of the Broncos franchise and their single biggest injury concern heading into 2012.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
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It has already started after one preseason game. The Ryan Mathews headache. This time it is a broken clavicle that will sideline Mathews through the remainder of the preseason and into the first quarter of the 2012 regular season. This is a major concern for the Chargers for these reasons:
1) We now know that Mathews, after his third NFL season, will not be able to claim having played an entire one.
2) Norv Turner, as usual, has spoken all preseason about Mathews' projected involvement in the offense, promising 300 touches. It is easy to see why. If you prorate Mathews' numbers over a 16-game season, he should be an 1,800-yard producer.
3) The Chargers have total scrubs behind Mathews. They let RB Mike Tolbert go to Carolina on a bad deal. As silly as it was for the Panthers to acquire Tolbert given their RB depth, it now seems sillier that the Chargers made no attempt to retain Tolbert given Mathews' well-documented injury history.
Ronnie Brown will be splitting first-team snaps with Curtis Brinkley and Le'Ron McClain. That is awful. Someone needs to get Cedric Benson on the phone.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
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Big Ben loves him some Big Ben.
He loves to be dramatic and make headlines. He is like Brett Favre in this regard. If he is injured, the world will know. The limp will be there during the game, and he'll talk about how tough it was to make it through at his heroic post-win press conference.
After just two weeks of training camp, we can already tally Roethlisberger spraining an ankle and disclosing to reporters that he has been playing with a partially torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder.
I actually think Roethlisberger plays better when his mobility is a little bit impaired with these frequent injuries he is so eager to let the world know about. Watch back to the games early in 2011 when he had the ankle injury. He went with smarter, quick reads instead of using his signature escapability and flair for the dramatic to get him in trouble going for the big play.
He is that offense, though, especially now.
Without Big Ben, things get out of control, especially in the running game. I have never been sold on rookie tackle Mike Adams, and after one preseason game, you can see the line is not greatly improved.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall won't be in to start, and who knows when he'll make it back. Wide receiver Mike Wallace may actually hold out. Who knows?
If he gets hurt, like, for real hurt, the Steelers will be left with Byron Leftwich handing balls off to Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Baron Batch behind what is currently a suspect offensive line.
Brent Grimes, Atlanta Falcons
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The Falcons need CB Brent Grimes healthy. He is one of the best cornerbacks in the league.
During the six games he missed in 2011 with a knee injury, the wide receivers he would have faced averaged right at 100 yards per game and one touchdown. Grimes only allowed two TDs in 2011. In the six games he missed, his position gave up 300 percent of the touchdowns that he gave up in 11 games.
According to Pro Football Focus, Grimes was fifth overall among NFL CBs in 2011 in opposing WR completion percentage at 44.6 percent. Of the 56 times opposing quarterbacks threw at Grimes, those passes only resulted in 25 completions.
He was also only called for one penalty, which was offsetting in nature and negligible. Now, Grimes is struggling with a foot injury that head coach Mike Smith doesn't seem too worried about. But any blip on the health radar should be cause for concern when it comes to Grimes.
You face some tough QBs in the NFC South, and things just got tougher with Vincent Jackson coming to town in Tampa.
Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccanneers
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Wide receiver Vincent Jackson comes to a new Bucs team coming off a final year in San Diego that many will remember as extremely lackluster.
Receiver was a significant position of need for the Bucs entering the 2012 season. Mike Williams regressed horribly in 2011, and his counterparts featured the likes of Preston Parker and the now-waived Dezmon Briscoe.
Yes, Jackson missed a lot of time last season although he suited up in every game. He wasn't himself. He whined about his contract, and to some, it seemed like he may have been mailing it in.
I believe that he sustained a severe abdominal strain early in 2011 and rushed back too quickly. He then created a lot of stress through the lumbar region of his lower back in favoring the injury. The result was the extra strain being passed onto the hamstring.
Here, we have two connected injuries—and two of the worst to sustain at the same time because of their relationship with one another. Favor one, the other suffers.
Although Jackson has never been an injury risk previously, I think he is going to mean so much to the Bucs' new offense that any injury will greatly impact the productivity of returning QB Josh Freeman, who has a style that seems tailor-made for delivering the kind of deep balls that Vincent Jackson has made a career turning into touchdowns.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
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Rams QB Sam Bradford has all the makings of an elite NFL quarterback and is most certainly being paid like one.
He has a lot of improving to do, though. There are obvious concerns about the recovery of his ankle, as SI's Jim Trotter quoted Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer as saying,
...If any coach said 'I don't worry when my quarterback gets hit,' he's lying to you. Over time if you get hit enough it's going to affect you, just like if a corner gets beat a couple of times on deep routes early in the game. You can say what you want, but it's going to affect him. Maybe not consciously but subconsciously it's in his mind.
Bradford's surrounding talent on offense is a mix of very young and very old. He needs to step up into the role of an elite franchise quarterback this season in order to bring this St. Louis team into its next chapter.
Another wasted season to injury would be nothing short of disastrous.
Stevie Johnson, Buffalo Bills
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Stevie Johnson had groin surgery at the end of April in an effort to finally put to an end a long, nagging injury that plagued him for nearly the entire 2011 season.
This is not a good way to go through life as a team's most dynamic offensive weapon.
Last week in training camp, he re-aggravated the injury, according to CBS Sports, saying:
It is very frustrating, but I will be back. though, so I know it is nothing major. I guess they are just looking out…They do not want it to be anything like it was last year, where I play through it and something happens. I might be playing through an entire season with something. So we are just being extra cautious. I do not know exactly what it is. I went in, got a few tests and everything, and I think they gave everything to coach. He will come up with everything.
The Bills will be being careful with Johnson. The starter opposite him is Donald Jones, for crying out loud. It was no coincidence last season that QB Ryan Fitzpatrick began to fall off as Johnson's injury started becoming more apparent and debilitating.
Jon Beason, Carolina Panthers
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The Carolina Panthers had both a dream and a nightmare come true in 2011.
Rookie QB Cam Newton came to Charlotte as a major question mark given the funds allocated and the checkered history regarding the adaptation likelihood of top-end, mobile QB prospects to NFL offenses.
What the Carolina Panthers got in Newton was The Prototype, a dream come true and a human blueprint of what creates dominance in today's NFL at the QB position.
The nightmare occurred on the defensive side of the ball and allowed opposing running backs to take turns running roughshod over a group of below-average backups.
Along the defensive line, the Panthers ended up placing two starters and one significant contributor on injured reserve in Terrell McClain, Ron Edwards and Sione Fua. Linebacker Thomas Davis was also lost for the season with an ACL injury. But the biggest loss was defensive leader, LB Jon Beason to Achilles surgery.
Beason represented the glue that may have been able to hold things together through the middle of the defense. Beason tweaked his hamstring in practice on Wednesday, and it makes you wonder if it was something that could have occurred as he still may be favoring the lower portion of his leg, leading to greater stress on the hamstring.
An Achilles is the kind of injury that I've heard people say "sticks with you mentally." It takes a while to trust your ability to extend from the balls of your feet. The Panthers need Beason healthy for more reasons than just having him on the field—Beason will serve as a leader and mentor to dynamic rookie LB Luke Kuechly.
Kuechly's development under this guidance will be crucial to the linebacking corps' ability to spill over at the point of attack with veteran angles and positioning. The Panthers cannot afford to lose Beason again in 2012.
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
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I've spoken ad nauseum about just how much new Raiders head coach Dennis Allen loves Darren McFadden.
McFadden gave him nightmares as defensive coordinator for AFC West rival Denver. He is the league's most dangerous rushing weapon, but that comes with a qualifying statement that everybody is familiar with: "When healthy."
Running back Michael Bush, who is now a Chicago Bear, was wonderful in stepping into McFadden's role in 2011. The problem was, as described to me by members of the previous Oakland staff, that Bush made them one-dimensional on offense.
The Raiders made no attempt to retain Bush during free agency, instead electing to back up McFadden with two runners who displayed skill sets similar to his. One was already on their roster in Taiwan Jones.
They also made a sneaky, terrific move in acquiring Mike Goodson from the Carolina Panthers.
If McFadden goes down, at least the Raiders will not have to change game plans drastically this season, as they certainly did in 2011.
It comes down to this. McFadden was lost for the season in Week 7 of 2011. He was on pace for more than 2,000 total yards. He has yet to plan an entire season in his five years in the pros. The Raiders offense will literally run through DMC in 2012, and he is by far their greatest injury concern.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
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Jaguars fans can't like RB Maurice Jones Drew's holdout, and I don't either.
His contract isn't fair, though.
As running back salaries go, the NFL's current leading rusher is not in the top 10.
MJD restructured his contract after he showed promise in the 12-touchdown season as a complement to fragile Fred Taylor. He had a lot of potential, but he was not who is he today when he renegotiated.
I recently did research on the amount of punishment an NFL running back's body takes on a weekly basis. The most violent NFL hits can register 150 g's of gravitational force according to Popular Mechanics, and running backs take the most violent hits. Even if you only look at what a 100-g hit feels like, it is brutal. It is like suiting up in football gear and diving off a 10-foot diving board onto pavement.
That is what the Jaguars are going to make MJD do 30 times a game this year, and again next year, and then again in 2014 when they slap a franchise tag on him.
It took about 45 minutes of live look-ins at Jags camp to realize that calling the Jags offense "anemic" in his absence is an understatement. I don't think you can look anemic if you look dead. It is just awful.
Without MJD, the Jaguars might not win a game. Still, the longer he holds out, the longer it will take for his body to re-acclimate to the game, and that concerns me. He needs to save himself $30,000 a day and end this losing battle.
The team holds all the cards.
Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals
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Maybe I should just say "the quarterback position" for the Cardinals.
Whoever lines up behind that mess of an offensive line is going to get absolutely creamed. We've only played one preseason game, and things like this are already happening. Just awful.
John Skelton came into the game after Kolb went out (on the play linked above) and looked halfway decent. He then returned to camp and proceeded to look like John Skelton again.
Who knows what will happen with the QB position in Arizona, but something tells me the Cardinals already know what they can get out of Skelton, but are not 100 percent sold on the fact that the guy they just gave another $7 million bonus to in Kolb was a complete mistake.
Whether or not the Cardinals are concerned about Kolb's health, I am. Anyone with eyes should be.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
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Talk about a nightmare. Cutler goes down and this whole plan, everything that has been put together is shot.
Bears fans rejoiced in the firing of GM Jerry Angelo, and possibly even more so in the canning of offensive coordinator Mike Martz. The Bears will finally have the ability to use the tight end in a division that can be exploited by Kellen Davis, their 6'7" weapon at the position.
They went out and got WR Brandon Marshall, reuniting a record-breaking, proven receiving connection with Cutler from their days in Denver. They drafted WR Alshon Jeffery and finally paid Matt Forte. Then they got the best running back on the 2012 free-agent market in Michael Bush to complement Forte.
Cutler's close friend Earl Bennett remains on the roster, along with a future Hall of Famer in Devin Hester. This offense is stacked and Cutler is literally writing the playbook.
The defense will be what the defense is, which is not what it used to be.
The offense will not be the offense if Jay Cutler gets hurt again this season. The fate of the Bears' season may hinge of the sorry blocking ability of the league's biggest offensive line liability—LT J'Marcus Webb.
Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions
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Lions RB Jahvid Best suffered some concussions in college at Cal that were absolutely brutal.
So much so, that I am not going to even link the video because it makes you feel a little bit sick to your stomach. The concussions were a concern coming in, and sure enough, here we are.
This is what we know about Best:
1) He is a dazzling, unbelievable and very fragile runner.
2) Lions GM Martin Mayhew has turned around a franchise that was universally viewed as garbage for the better part of two decades by keeping his mouth shut to the media and taking care of business in-house. He told the Detroit Free Press that he is "surprised" and "disappointed" that Best has still not been cleared 10 months after his last concussion. That is out of character for Mayhew and indicative of major concern.
3) It is already being wondered if maybe he should just retire.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
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Almost too obvious.
The best running back in the game tore his ACL and his MCL last season after returning from an unrelated ankle injury to play in a meaningless game.
His importance to the club and the level of concern over the injury need no real detailing. Adrian Peterson is the franchise.
Now, only nine months off a surgery that is generally thought of as taking one year to fully recover from, Peterson is doing what Peterson does: freakish things.
According to Kevin Siefert of SI.com, Adrian Peterson has been cleared to run, but will be monitored closely. The plan is to get him into some practice reps, and hopefully a few exhibition game snaps before going into Week 1 of the regular season, which is the goal that has been set for his return. Said Peterson, "I'm ready to get hit. It might sound strange, but just to get that feel."
Desmond Bishop, Green Bay Packers
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It didn't take long for the injury bug to rear its head in the Packers' first preseason game Thursday. Linebacker Desmond Bishop had to leave with a right knee injury.
At the moment, the extent of Bishop's injury is unclear, but there is certainly plenty of concern.
Bishop missed three games in 2011 and still had the second-most sacks of any inside linebacker in the league. He represents an important piece of the team's plans for developing a pass rush.
Bishop also led the 2011 Packers in tackles.
Although he is a liability in coverage, he is a hard-nosed, run-stopper with downhill acceleration that brings energy and leadership to the work-in-progress that is the Green Bay front seven on defense.
Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots
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I caught up with Mike Loyko of NEPatriotsDraft.com about the Pats' biggest injury concerns coming into the 2012 season, and he had trouble deciding who of two very big men, guard Logan Mankins and tackle Sebastian Vollmer, concerned him most:
Mankins tore his ACL during the playoff run and played through it in the Super Bowl. He opened training camp on the PUP list. Mankins is yet to practice, but has been visible on the practice field working out with trainers and strength coaches. Mankins is considered one of the best guards in the league. If he is unable to go at the start of the season, it's going to be Dan Conolly.
Vollmer missed considerable time last season with a variety of injuries. Most concerning is the back injury. While it looks like both players will be ready to go, the organization is taking it slow with both.
As we saw in the first preseason game, if both players are missing, the Patriots' line is a big concern.
The Wide Receiving Group, New York Jets
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Santonio Holmes had an injury last week in the Saturday night scrimmage, and the Jets got some good news that the rib-cartilage injury was not a cracked rib, as was initially feared, Holmes told Rich Cimini of ESPN NewYork:
I'm getting better every day right now...I'm taking it one day at a time. When I feel the need for contact and the trainers are ready for me to have contact, then I'll be ready to roll.
Holmes was held out of Friday's preseason opener as was Jeremy Kerley, who has missed most of training camp with a hamstring. New addition Chaz Schillens has a long and checkered past regarding injuries and came into Jets camp with a few issues of his own right from the start.
The Tight Ends, Baltimore Ravens
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Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are both out of the Ravens' rotation right now.
Pitta broke his hand early in camp while Dickson suffered a shoulder injury in Thursday night's preseason opener.
Anyone who has watched the Ravens in the last two seasons knows that the offense most certainly does not go through the tight end. But QB Joe Flacco often turns to one of these two in third-down and pressure situations on a consistent basis.
The tight end is an important part of this offense. Watch the 2011 AFC Championship Game if you need a reminder.
The guys backing up Pitta and Dickson are not exactly household names.
As Jason Butt of CBS Sports reports, the players filling in will be Billy Bajema, Matt Balasavage and Davon Drew.
Pitta and Dickson are both expected back by Week 1 of the regular season. But for now they remain the Ravens' biggest injury concerns.
Jonathan Goodwin, San Francisco 49ers
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Make no mistake, as glamorous as the Bay Area offense in San Francisco seems, it is a run-based offense that sets up the pass.
Obviously, center is a vital position, and Jonathan Goodwin is very old and very prone to injury.
The 33-year-old was battling injuries again last season, which allowed him to give up the second-most QB hits of any NFL center, according to Pro Football Focus, and was rated as the NFL's second-worst pass-blocking center.
Goodwin was 13th best in the league based on PFF's run-blocking metrics, though, and that is what the 49ers need.
Goodwin is already missing snaps in training camp this season. When asked about Goodwin's absence from the end of drills last week, head coach Jim Harbaugh said:
No, Goodwin worked for a good amount of time and then backed off some of his reps. That was a function of taking the edge off of him toward the latter half of practice.
It is obvious that there is some level of concern regarding Goodwin, which is called for and reasonable given the position's need for serious improvement.
Rey Maualuga, Cincinatti Bengals
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Rey Maualuga has left the Bengals' preseason opener versus the Jets as I type this slide.
This is not good news.
Maualuga missed three games in 2011 and was outperformed by his less-heralded teammate Thomas Howard.
What cannot be denied, though, is that if we look at the AFC North as a division, there has not been a team that has won the division in the last decade that did not have a fantastic inside linebacker corps—it is a necessity.
As of now, we do not know the extent of the injury, but we do know that many believed that Maualuga was poised for a breakout season, and that he had been acting as the defensive leader in camp.
His backup is Rod Muckelroy, who I have been covering since he was a junior in high school. While I am a huge fan of Muck, and believe he will be a great contributor one day, he is not ready to step up and quarterback this defense yet. Not in this division.
I think it is safe to say the Bengals are very concerned about this one.
The Offensive Line, Cleveland Browns
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Rookie RB Trent Richardson is having to get a surprise second knee-scope procedure of the 2012 offseason this week. By Dr. James Andrews.
While this setback will no doubt hinder Richardson's development and integration into the offense, he will see the field soon enough, and often.
I do not care what camp reports say—RB Montario Hardesty is not a good back for a West Coast offense. He drops easy balls and is terribly inconsistent in assignments. Chris Obgnaya is just a guy. Richardson will be tossed into the fire as soon as humanly possible.
He is a big concern, but not their biggest. I am convinced after speaking with Vic Carucci of ClevelandBrowns.com at the Senior Bowl this offseason that the staff viewed the loss of LG Eric Steinbach and the serious, lingering issues of RT Tony Pashos in 2011 as brutal blows to their goals as an offense.
Outside of Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, Colt McCoy was getting "protected" by scrubs.
Kinda makes firing him and replacing him with a rookie seem a little unfair.
That's a whole other column, though. If the Browns are going to turn things around, they need quarterback play. To get average to better-than-average QB play from rookie Brandon Weeden (a reasonably optimistic goal,) you need to protect him.
The Browns need a healthy offensive line.
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts
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There is a 100-foot long poster of Reggie Wayne on the Northwest-facing corner of Lucas Oil Stadium that was once flanked on the Northeast corner by a similar larger-than-life image of Peyton Manning.
With Peyton Manning now gone, the receiver who always played second fiddle is embracing his role as the feature attraction at Colts camp. He is also 33 years old and is being put in a position of huge expectations, according to Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com. He reports new Colts GM made clear Wayne's newest mission:
This is a young roster with just seven players left from Tony Dungy's last team in 2008. With a rookie starter at QB, it puts a lot of pressure on veterans like Reggie Wayne to help keep this team focused at times when it may wane.
Rookie WR T.Y. Hilton is already getting help from Wayne.
He's teaching me a lot, how to get in and out of breaks. I haven't been able to go with him after practice, but I go to the machine before practice and catch with Reggie.
The age of 33 is about the time you start worrying about these super fast-twitch types of receivers. One day, sadly, the switch goes off. (That day has not come for Terrell Owens, apparently.)
When it does, the player overcompensates and something eventually just goes pop. If they are expecting a veteran leader and continued presence in Wayne, he is their biggest injury concern.
DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
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The Cowboys knew that DeMarco Murray was an injury concern when they drafted him.
He was injured every year in college at Oklahoma, and, as noted by Pro Football Talk, even started his career as a Cowboy on the non-football injury list with a hamstring.
Murray exploded onto the scene with an absolute monster game in Week 6 of his 2011 rookie season against the same Swiss-cheese Rams defense that a very sorry Beanie Wells carved up for 228 yards. For the remaining seven games during which Murray was healthy, he was able to serve up 100 yard-plus games in two of them.
An oft-overlooked fact about the Cowboys' selection of Murray is his natural ability as a receiver out of the backfield.
Like Jerry Jones, I am constantly reminded of Eric Dickerson when watching Murray run. He has a bruising, upright style, with visible confidence in the execution of his assignment and a mean streak through the first level. These attributes do not often pair well with the polished receiving threat that Murray is, increasing his value and importance.
If you look at the Cowboys' 2011 schedule, you'll notice one distinct pattern.
Starting in Week 6, when Murray cemented his prominent featured role, the Cowboys' success went the way of the run. When Murray had good games, they won. When Murray had bad games, they lost. Plain and simple.
They lost three of their last four games in which Murray did not participate, with the sole win coming against the Tampa Bay Bucs, who had quit playing football by Week 15.
Mike Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
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The X-rays were negative this time. Thank goodness for Eagles fans.
In his first preseason game, Eagles QB Mike Vick, a perennial injury risk, told Rob Maaddi of the Associated Press that he dodged a bullet.
I heard a pop and I didn't know if it was my thumb or from the collision...I was hoping it wasn't anything severe. I should practice on Saturday.
Maadi reports that Vick injured his left hand on the helmet of center Jason Kelce's helmet during the Eagles' preseason opener on the follow-through.
This small mishap serves a reminder—any NFL QB can have this sort of freak injury occur, but the fact is, Vick somehow consistently puts himself in these kind of positions to get hurt.
He is getting up there in age (32), and the nifty footwork and blazing speed that have characterized his career will eventually serve as a liability.
The Eagles can't afford for Vick to get injured. I grew up with his backup, Nick Foles. I spoke with Foles every day at the Senior Bowl and think he has the chance to be a great NFL QB with time. Not now, though.
If Vick goes down, this season is shot for Philly. Period. We all know Mike Kafka is no good–and hurt. Vick is without a doubt the Eagles' biggest injury concern.
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
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Wideout Andre Johnson's upper leg is already flaring up again. Whenever you have hamstrings and quads that pop out of your body like alien armor, maybe you are just prone to stuff like this. Johnson certainly is.
He needs to stay healthy this year because there really aren't any other proven weapons at WR (or tight end for that matter; Owen Daniels disappeared last year). Kevin Walter is just OK. He's very unspectacular and not even that polished.
Rookies who have potential are Devier Posey and Keshawn Martin, and there's a wild card in Lestar Jean. That is not an All-Star list I just reeled off.
If just this year Johnson could stay healthy, it opens so many things up for that offense. When healthy, and depending on who you ask, Johnson is anywhere between the second- and fifth-best receiver playing the game.
He is absolutely dominant. But that is easy to forget because of the injuries.
Sidney Rice, Seattle Seahawks
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Seahawks WR Sidney Rice was acquired from the Minnesota Vikings along with QB Tarvaris Jackson.
This was in a head-scratching effort to bring the dynamic duo to the Pacific Northwest to aid in rejuvenating an anemic passing offense. The only problem was that Jackson and Rice didn't have a connection.
They had one big game together at the end of 2010 in an absolutely meaningless contest, otherwise Rice unleashed most of his monster performances with Brett Favre under center. But that is beside the point.
The point here is that Rice is an important weapon in that offense and an elite talent. He is a huge injury concern, however.
Any time a player sustains three concussions in a one-year span, that is a big red flag in today's NFL. In the last two seasons, concussions aren't all that has plagued Rice.
He's only played 15 games in the last two seasons, with hip issues and a shoulder issue for which he had two offseason surgeries this year.
The Seahawks are so needy at the WR position that they cast a life-line to 38-year-old former Allen Wrangler Terrell Owens, and Braylon Edwards, who has very bad hands and is very much done as an NFL WR.
The Seahawks cannot afford to lose Rice for an extended period. And there is already talk he may not be ready for Week 1.
Center, Tennessee Titans
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What a blow.
Amano will miss the 2012 season with a torn triceps ailment.
According to Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com, the two players left fighting to fill the void in Amano's absence are Fernando Velasco and Kevin Matthews, who have a combined five NFL starts.
Amano may no longer be an injury concern per se, but his injury has caused major concern within the interior of the Titans offensive line. It will be an interesting battle to watch through training camp.
Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
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The fate of the New York Giants running game lies in the hands of a man who has one seriously messed up foot.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw has more screws loose in his lower plantar region than a patient in the psychiatric ward has in his schizophrenic dome.
It used to be that Brandon Jacobs took the tough carries, the first- and second-down carries when the defense knew that the run was coming. Now, Jacobs is a San Francisco 49er and the dynamic of the Giants backfield has changed drastically.
Bradshaw, once thought of as the injury-prone change-of-pace back, finds himself in the role of workhorse. Rookie David Wilson will serve in the role of "home-run threat" that was previously occupied by Bradshaw.
The Wall Street Journal says the Giants' run game has "Nowhere To Go But Up," but in one wrong step, Bradshaw can send these positive hopes right down the toilet.
Bradshaw is in a role that is more important than any he has ever occupied. His injury history is more than a major concern for the Giants. Without Bradshaw, it will be the D.J. Ware and David Wilson show in New York.
That is terrible.
Jammal Brown, Washington Redskins
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Brian Paxon of Bleacher Report did a great job outlining this situation here.
Basically, he reiterates what our eyes have seen: LT Trent Williams is really good. He's going to be special.
Right tackle Jammal Brown, who was acquired in 2010 from New Orleans, however, has been very sorry as a Redskin and is currently very hurt.
Right guard Chris Chester is no jewel either.
The whole right side of the line is a liability and a horrible supporting cast for rookie QB Robert Griffin III in a zone-blocking system.
Brown is an ex-Pro Bowler. In 2008, he accompanied Drew Brees to Hawaii. He has shown none of that potential in our nation's capital and is currently watching scrubs like Tyler Polumbus take his snaps in camp as he nurses his latest hip injury.
Brown is due back by Week 1 of the regular season, but needs to get back to being the player he was. This is a huge concern for the Redskins.
David Garrard, Miami Dolphins
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The Miami Dolphins did not want to roll out Ryan Tannehill as starting QB to start the 2012 season.
Thanks to a surprise knee-scope procedure that will sideline David Garrard, who was leading a three-man race to start the 2012 season as Miami's signal-caller, it looks like Tannehill will get what he has undoubtedly wished for all along.
My opinion is well known. I am a fan of Tannehill, but I feel he is not ready. I have the distinct belief after talking with members of the Dolphins' staff that they are not high on incumbent QB Matt Moore.
Garrard provided the perfect veteran buffer between the Tannehill era and the installation of a Joe Philbin offense.
Garrard will now miss the entire preseason recovering from the procedure, and Ryan Tannehill will soon be named starter one year too early.