Highlighting the 7 Biggest Injury Concerns Entering Training Camp

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IJuly 23, 2013

Highlighting the 7 Biggest Injury Concerns Entering Training Camp

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    They are unavoidable in professional sports. Injuries are something all 32 teams in the NFL have to deal with. It’s the reality of the game, and we haven’t even gotten to the games yet.

    Players such as San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Melvin Ingram (knee injury) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers placekicker Connor Barth (ruptured Achilles tendon) will be sidelined for either most of or the entire season.

    Some players, such as Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams and Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller, both big parts of their respective units, figure to be ready to go when their teams open camp later this month.

    Others, such as Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, have shown incredible recuperative powers.

    As for the players listed in this piece, the common link between all of them is uncertainty. When exactly will these seven players be back on the field? And when they do return, how big of a factor will they be this season?

    Obviously, we may be waiting a while to answer either one of those questions.

CB Lardarius Webb, Baltimore Ravens

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    The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens will have a definitively different look this season.

    Gone are longtime veterans in linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed. Also gone are linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe, cornerback Cary Williams and strong safety Bernard Pollard. All played key roles in the team’s 2012 playoff run.

    One player who was not around for the postseason was cornerback Lardarius Webb, who injured his knee in October. One of the better players in the league at his position, there’s no exact timetable when it comes to his return.

    The Ravens defense will have its share of new faces in 2013, including a secondary that now features rookie Matt Elam and veteran Michael Huff (Oakland Raiders) at the safety spots. As Baltimore opened camp this week, linebacker Jameel McClain was placed on the active/physically unable to perform list (along with starting guard Marshal Yanda).

    Hopefully, Webb will be back sooner than later.

FS Ed Reed, Houston Texans

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    The Houston Texans were not a very busy team during the free-agency period. Then again, they didn’t have to be.

    Along with fullback Greg Jones (Jacksonville Jaguars) and punter Shane Lechler (Oakland Raiders), the team signed veteran free safety Ed Reed away from the Baltimore Ravens.

    The perennial Pro Bowler needs no introduction. His 61 career interceptions rank 10th in NFL history and his nine interceptions in the playoffs are tied for the most in postseason annals.

    But having Reed and having him on the field soon appear to be two different matters. The 11-year veteran is coming off hip surgery, and his return remains up in the air.

    Keep in mind that the Houston defense had its issues during the second half of 2012. If you include the playoff split with the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots, the Texans allowed 26.9 points per game in their final nine outings—quite a jump from their first nine games (15.9 points per game) last season.

    In 11 seasons in the NFL, the Texans have totaled at least 30 takeaways just once. A healthy Reed in the lineup could make all of the difference when it comes to that key statistic.

TE Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

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    You could make a case that when it comes to NFL injuries this offseason, no player has been a more common topic of discussion than New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (although RGIII would give that statement a run for its money).

    Here is the bottom line for the New England Patriots: When the team faces the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, their six leading pass-catchers from 2012 won’t be on the field.

    You know the story by now when it comes to the departures of Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead and Deion Branch, all for assorted reasons.

    Gronkowski has already been placed on the active/PUP list. Now making matters even more interesting is the fact that wide receiver Julian Edelman was placed on that list as well.

    Is the Patriots’ passing game in trouble? It is interesting that despite the losses, the team recently released Donald Jones. The former Buffalo Bills wideout was picked up during free agency in March.

    So, does head coach Bill Belichick know something we don’t?

OLB Victor Butler, New Orleans Saints

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    New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is hoping to orchestrate a major turnaround. In his first season on the job, the well-traveled coach looks to fix a unit that gave up the most total yards in a season in the 93-year history of the NFL.

    A year ago, the Saints were ranked dead last in the league against the run and were next-to-last versus the pass. The Saints also allowed 454 points—the second-most in 2012 save for the Tennessee Titans (471).

    With the change to the 3-4 defense in the Crescent City came some new faces. That included a few from the Dallas Cowboys, Ryan’s last employer.

    One of those was left outside linebacker Victor Butler (wearing No. 90 in the photo), who was supposed to play a big role in the pass-rushing game. The team has moved defensive end Will Smith to right OLB, but how that will work out remains to be seen.

    It will not work out for Butler—at least for now. Last month, he suffered a devastating ACL tear and is likely out for the season.

    It’s a huge blow for a team looking to make a major defensive adjustment. And it is a unit that is not particularly deep at the linebacker position. Third-year pro Martez Wilson will try his hand for now.

DE Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants

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    Take a look at the video at left. Flash back to 2009, when then-University of South Florida defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was showing off his athletic prowess.

    These days, the thought that the former Pro Bowler may not be available for the start of the regular season doesn’t exactly have the New York Giants doing cartwheels.

    Pierre-Paul is recovering from June back surgery, and his recovery period was originally slated at 12 weeks—bringing his return date around late August.

    Last season, only the New Orleans Saints gave up more total yards per game than the Giants. New York totaled only 33 sacks in 2012—15 fewer than the previous season (48), when the team won Super Bowl XLVI. In 2011, Pierre-Paul totaled 16.5 sacks, a figure that dipped to 6.5 sacks this past season.

    A year ago, we saw the Giants defense at its worst far too often, most notably in December losses to the Atlanta Falcons (34-0) and Baltimore Ravens (33-14). With Pierre-Paul currently sidelined and defensive end Osi Umenyiora no longer with the team, New York’s defensive front appears a bit shorthanded at end, to say the least.

WR Santonio Holmes, New York Jets

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    The word "slowly" doesn’t usually apply to New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes.

    But after suffering a Lisfranc injury last season during the team’s Week 4 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, there is still no set time table for return, Holmes recently acknowledged to Newsday.

    In four games last season, Holmes totaled 20 catches for 272 yards and a touchdown. In 2011, Holmes finished second on the club with 51 catches and tied for the team lead with eight TD receptions.

    A year ago, the Jets ranked 30th in the league in passing yardage and produced just 14 scores through the air. The absence of Holmes for the final 12 games certainly had an effect and was one reason the team failed to score at least 20 points in nine of those contests.

    Filling this void, regardless of how long it lasts, will be much easier said than done.

WR Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers

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    San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree led his team in catches, receiving yards and touchdown receptions during both the regular season and the playoffs in 2012.

    It may not be out of the question that the former first-round pick could repeat that latter feat should the 49ers return to the postseason.

    Obviously, Crabtree won’t be leading the Niners in receptions during the regular season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in May. But when Crabtree may return is the big question. Could it be sooner rather than later?

    The Niners appear to have the depth to offset the situation. Anquan Boldin comes over from the Baltimore Ravens and another recent Super Bowl champion, Mario Manningham, remains in the mix.

    Still, the rapport between Crabtree and quarterback Colin Kaepernick was growing on a game-by-game basis, and the loss will definitely be felt. For now, the Niners signal-caller will have to make some other plans.