Projected Return Dates for Injured NFL Playmakers
With the start of the 2013 regular season now just a week away, the NFL remains littered with sidelined stars recovering from injuries that could threaten the start to their seasons.
Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White, Houston Texans safety Ed Reed, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul are among the biggest names still completing their recovery timelines ahead of Week 1. Some will be available for the opener, others not.
In the following slides, we'll provide the projected return dates for a number of the NFL's biggest names before the start of the NFL season.
WR Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons
Injury: Ankle sprain
Prognosis: Hopeful for Week 1
The Falcons remain confident that White will be available when Atlanta travels to take on the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Internally, the team must view the ankle sprain as relatively minor, and it's worth noting that White will have had well over three weeks between his low-ankle sprain on Aug. 16 to the start of the regular season.
Practice time next week could always tell a different story, but for now, there's no reason to think White won't be playing in the opener. He hasn't missed a single game in his eight-year career (a span of 128 games), and three weeks is typically more than enough time to get over a bum ankle, especially if the sprain isn't of the "high" variety.
WR DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Prognosis: Hopeful for Week 1
Hopkins, who suffered a concussion in the Texans' second preseason game, has yet to be cleared to return to practice, per Tania Ganguli of ESPN.
However, according to the Houston Chronicle, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said Hopkins could play in the Texans’ preseason finale against Dallas on Thursday. He ended up staying on the sidelines, per Brian T. Smith of the Chronicle, but it seems he is progressing.
Concussions have become nearly impossible to assess in the modern NFL, especially with the league's new head injury protocol in place. Hopkins is on Stage 4 of the league's five-step program, so he doesn't have long to go there.
In a worst-case scenario, the symptoms stick around and Hopkins is forced to miss considerable time. But there's no evidence yet that the worst-case scenario is in play. With the recent encouraging news out of Texans camp, Week 1 against the San Diego Chargers definitely seems in play for the young wideout.
S Ed Reed, Houston Texans
Prognosis: Week 1 status unknown
The Texans still don't have a good grasp on when they'll get back Reed, who signed a three-year, $15 million deal with the club this offseason. His surgically repaired hip received another look this week, along with a series of injections, and, ultimately, it will be Reed's call on whether he'll play against the Chargers in Week 1, according to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle.
But Reed still hasn't practiced, and Houston can't feel great about the 34-year-old's chances in the opener. Even if medical clearance comes soon, Reed would have limited time to get his body in playing shape.
It's certainly possible that Houston will be forced to play its first couple of games with Shiloh Keo at safety instead of the playmaking Reed.
TE Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts
Prognosis: Ready for Week 1
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano delivered good news this week about both Fleener and Dwayne Allen, his two starting tight ends. According to Keith Bowen of the Colts' official website, Pagano expects Fleener (knee) and Allen (foot) to be healthy and ready to play in Week 1.
The pair will sit out Thursday's preseason finale, but neither player should require the extra work. Fleener needs to get the knee as healthy as possible before the season begins.
While he has struggled at times with focus this preseason—he had two bad drops and a lost fumble—Fleener is still expected to be a main target for quarterback Andrew Luck this season. At the very least, he'll see a high volume of snaps in the Colts' tight-end-heavy offense.
TE Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Prognosis: Week 3-4 return?
Rob Gronkowski isn't practicing in full yet, but he has been spotted at Patriots practice doing side work with assistant coaches, per Field Yates of ESPN. This news, combined with New England's decision to keep Gronkowski off the PUP list (which would have cost him at least the first six games), suggests a recovery timetable that is somewhere in the three- to four-week range.
His chances of playing in Week 1 are still slim to none, but the Patriots have to be encouraged that their All-Pro tight end isn't likely to miss more than two or three games, barring a setback.
In fact, Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston speculated that a late September return to the lineup "might not be that far off the mark." Bank on a return in Week 3 or 4 for Gronk.
CB Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos
Prognosis: Unlikely for Week 1
Initial fears of a dreaded Lisfranc injury were put to rest early, and the Broncos have to be pleased that Champ Bailey didn't need a walking boot this week, per Lindsay Jones of USA Today.
However, Bailey still hasn't practiced since the injury, which occurred against the Seahawks on Aug. 17. With the Broncos opening the season next Thursday, Bailey doesn't have much time to get ready for Week 1.
If the Broncos elect to hold Bailey out against the Baltimore Ravens, the veteran corner would have over a week to get the foot ready for Week 2. There's no need to rush him back prematurely. The season is a marathon, not a sprint, and he needs the foot to be 100 percent in January, not 90 percent in September.
WR Victor Cruz, New York Giants
Prognosis: Likely for Week 1
Gone are Victor Cruz's crutches and walking boot, replaced by soaring optimism that he'll be ready to play against the Dallas Cowboys in the Giants' season opener on Sept. 8, according to Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News.
Cruz originally banged up his heel in New York's second preseason game. There was some initial fear that his availability for the opener could be in question, but Cruz now appears to be right on schedule to return next week.
A full 10 days separate Cruz and the Giants opener, and it's certainly possible that he'll get a chance to practice fully before heading down to Dallas on Sept. 8. Barring a setback, Cruz will play his 37th consecutive game (playoffs included) for the Giants against the Cowboys.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants
Prognosis: Likely for Week 1
The Giants took Jason Pierre-Paul off the active/PUP list Monday, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. His return came even earlier than expected, and it's now reasonable to think he will be able to play when the Giants take on the Cowboys in the season opener.
Keep in mind, a total of 13 days separate Pierre-Paul's return to the practice field (Aug. 26) from Week 1 (Sept. 8). That should be more than enough time for the Giants defensive end to get his body into football shape.
Even if conditioning is a problem, Pierre-Paul could play on a snap count or in certain situations against the Cowboys. The bigger surprise now would be if JPP doesn't suit up in Dallas for the opener.
RB Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Prognosis: Out three to six weeks?
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette originally reported that Le'Veon Bell would miss "up to six weeks" with what was described as a small tear in a ligament in his foot. While that recovery timeline was better than what the initial diagnosis suggested (possible Lisfranc injury), Bell might be pushing the six-week number down too.
According to F. Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter, Bell has already shed his walking boot, a revelation that suggests the rookie running back could be back much sooner than six weeks down the road.
He'll still miss most, if not all, of September, but it's not ridiculous to expect Bell back in early October. His prognosis looks much better today than it did when the injury originally happened.
LB Quinton Coples, New York Jets
Prognosis: Unlikely for Week 1
Quinton Coples' busted ankle needed surgery to correct, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, and it's unlikely that he'll be ready to play when the Jets host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. Jane McManus of ESPN New York initially reported a three- to four-week recovery on Aug. 17.
Even if on the short side of that timeline, Coples would be hard-pressed to make it for Week 1. Surgery might also complicate McManus' timeline, likely in terms of pushing back his return date.
Given Coples' positional versatility and value against both the pass and run, the Jets can't afford to be without him for too many games. For now, Coples can be expected to sit in Week 1, and maybe even Week 2.
CB Stephon Gilmore, Buffalo Bills
Injury: Broken wrist
Prognosis: Out six to eight weeks
The Bills suffered a big blow when head coach Doug Marrone announced second-year cornerback Stephon Gilmore would need surgery to correct a fractured wrist. Initial estimates put Gilmore out at least six to eight weeks.
Either way, the Bills will be without their top cornerback for a significant portion of the season's first half. Week 1 against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots could be an early adventure for Buffalo at cornerback.
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