Latest Update on the NFL's Biggest Injured Stars
Injuries are, unfortunately, a fact of life in the National Football League.
As frustrating as those injuries can be, it's that much more maddening when they occur before the season has even started. Watching a season's hopes and dreams go out the window in June isn't good for one's blood pressure.
Just ask Dallas Cowboys fans who watched middle linebacker Sean Lee go down for the season with a torn ACL last month.
Lee isn't the only star player on the shelf, whether it's due to an injury sustained in OTAs or a lingering one from last year.
Here's the latest from the trainer's table regarding those players.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Miami Dolphins
Running back Knowshon Moreno’s tenure with the Miami Dolphins hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts, but at least now there’s an explanation for why Moreno showed up at camp looking pudgy and was running behind Lamar Miller in practices.
Of course, a bad knee (and surgery on that knee) isn’t an explanation that makes fans of the Dolphins feel one bit better:
And...Dolphins RB Knowshon Moreno will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery this week and miss four to five weeks, per ESPN sources.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 23, 2014
In fact, Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports reported that Moreno’s condition could be of the much more unsettling chronic and degenerative variety:
Talked to a source who has seen Knowshon Moreno's knee. Said it's "bad." Prob will play, but the issue is how long.
— Jason Cole (@JasonPhilCole) June 20, 2014
With that said though, Bleacher Report’s Dr. Dave Siebert isn’t overly concerned…yet:
4-5 weeks for Knowshon Moreno after knee scope. My level of concern is low, but keep an eye out for ongoing swelling as he gets moving.
— Dr. Dave Siebert (@DaveMSiebert) June 25, 2014
Despite rushing for over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career last year, there wasn’t much interest in Moreno in free agency. In fact, Moreno told Andrew Abramson of The Palm Beach Post that “the Dolphins were the only team that reached out to him during free agency.”
Now we may know why.
Moreno's availability for the start of training camp is now very much in question, and if his recovery drags into the preseason, Moreno is going to have a hard time unseating Miller atop the depth chart before Week 1.
Mike Pouncey, C, Miami Dolphins
But wait Dolphins fans! It gets better!
Last year, the Dolphins' offensive line was an absolute wreck. No team in the NFL allowed more sacks.
Miami was aggressive in addressing the issue in the offseason, signing free agent tackle Branden Albert and drafting Tennessee's Ja'Wuan James in the first round in May.
Now,however, the holdover who was expected to hold the whole thing together will be sidelined indefinitely.
As Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported, Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey underwent hip surgery that will cost the 24-year-old at least three months:
Can confirm ESPN report on Mike Pouncey requiring hip surgery. The procedure took place today and I'm told it's at least a 3 month recovery
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) June 23, 2014
James Walker of ESPN passed along word that Sam Brenner has worked as the second-team center in OTAs, but Walker also wrote that "Brenner has never started at center at any level. Do the Dolphins want Brenner learning on the job against the AFC East rival New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills?"
Omar Kelly of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted another possibility:
Not sure why people assume Sam Brenner instantly becomes starting center for Miami. Who filled in for Mike Pouncey last year? Nate Garner.
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) June 23, 2014
However, as Walker said, "Garner’s biggest strength is he can play every position. But the bad news is he’s average -- at best -- at every position. Average may not be good enough in the middle of Miami’s offensive line."
Much remains unknown, including how many regular-season games Pouncey might miss.
What is certain is that the Dolphins are experiencing the worst sort of deja vu on the offensive line this summer.
Jon Beason, MLB, New York Giants
One upon a time, Jon Beason was one of the NFL's most feared young linebackers. Then injuries derailed his career, to the point where the Carolina Panthers traded Beason to the New York Giants for the equivalent of six PBRs and a frozen pizza.
Beason resurrected his career with Big Blue, topping 100 tackles for the first time since 2010 and earning a three-year contract extension from the team.
And then lo and behold, here came the injuries again.
While taking place in practices at OTAs, Beason broke a bone and tore a ligament in his foot.
Beason won't require surgery, but a 12-week recovery timetable followed, although Beason told Ralph Vacchiano of The New York Daily News he hopes to be back for the season opener:
The prognosis is X amount of time and (the opener) is within that timeframe. I expect to be back (for the opener). If not, I’ll be back as soon as I can. That’s really how you have to look at it. If it’s not 16 (games), maybe it’s 15 or 14. Whatever it is, you want it to be that number as opposed to one.
Dan Graziano of ESPN doesn't share Beason's optimism, however, writing that "I'd expect to see [Jameel] McClain in the middle, [Jacquian] Williams on the weak side and either [Spencer] Paysinger or, if he has a big camp, [Devon] Kennard on the strong side in Week 1."
Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos
2013 was a miserable mess of a season for Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, bookended by a six-game suspension and a torn ACL. In between came the worst production of Miller's career.
The 25-year-old showed up at camp this year slimmed-down and vowing a bounce-back season, according to Lindsay Jones of USA Today:
I've been through a whole bunch. And to still be here and still have everything that was set out before still be able to get it now, it's a true blessing. I come to work every day, and it's just different now. I love coming to work, not that I didn't love coming to work before. But you know, I just have a huge opportunity to come here and play with the Broncos.
So far as his recovery from the knee injury is concerned, Miller told Bleacher Report's Cecil Lammey he's modeling his rehab after that of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's two years ago:
He set the bar extremely high. His injury was totally different from mine. He had an ACL and an MCL. For me it’s just the ACL. Everything that he did, I just use it for motivation. It’s not really like a competition or anything like that. Everybody’s body is different. I just look at him and try to see all the stuff that he was doing to help better his body and try to do some of the same stuff.
Lammey, who is as plugged in to what's going on in the Mile High City as any beat writer in the business, offered this take on Miller's chances of being ready to rock for the Broncos' Sunday night opener against the Indianapolis Colts:
When Week 1 is here, Miller will be almost nine months removed from the injury. This is enough time for him to be on the field at least as a part-time player for the Broncos.
So long as Miller doesn’t suffer any setbacks in his recovery, it’s not out of the question to believe that he can be ready for the season opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Broncos could ease Miller in as a part-time pass-rusher if he’s not quite healthy enough at the beginning of the season. They have a bye in Week 4, and after that we could see Miller look more like his old self.
Tyrann Mathieu, FS/CB, Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals gambled a third-round pick on LSU's Tyrann Mathieu a year ago, confident that the "Honey Badger's" talent would win out over his troubled past.
For a time, it looked like the Redbirds hit the jackpot. Mathieu showed off the ball-hawking skills that were his trademark, while faring better in run support than most expected given his diminutive size.
In fact, Mathieu ranked fourth among NFL cornerbacks last year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
However, a torn ACL ended Mathieu's season in December, and given how late in the season it happened, that injury leaves Mathieu's availability for the beginning of the 2014 campaign in doubt.
Back in May, general manager Steve Keim told Adam Schein on SiriusXM (h/t Josh Weinfuss of ESPN) the Cardinals were optimistic Mathieu would be ready for the season opener:
We think there's a chance that he'll be back by the beginning of the season. ... He has been a gym rat. He's in here all the time. We have to kick him out of the building and tell him 'Tyrann, go home for a little bit.' He's always in the training room doing his rehab.
That optimism extended into the month of June:
Arians hopeful @Mathieu_Era, NT Alameda Ta'amu only miss a week or so of training camp. Niklas will be ? for the start of it.
— Kent Somers (@kentsomers) June 12, 2014
However, head coach Bruce Arians tapped the brakes on the Mathieu hype train when speaking with Darren Urban of the team's website:
That’s strictly up to the doctors, trainers and them. I’m not going to hurry them. We have plenty of time. If they aren’t ready for the first day of training camp — which I doubt anyway, because I’ve never thought that. I had Oct. 1, or after the (bye week) as the target date for me personally. If they do something better than that, God bless ‘em.
This is one that's going down to the wire, and you can bet that "Mathieu Watch" will be a hot pastime when the Cardinals open camp in Glendale next month.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
On one hand, it wouldn't be a recap of training camp injuries without some mention of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Of course, on the other hand, doing an injury update on a player in New England is more than a little like trying to do a lifestyle piece on the night life in Pyongyang.
There's going to be more than a little speculation, as concrete info is nigh impossible to come by.
However, as Andy Hart of the team's website wrote, the NFL Network recently reported that Gronkowski’s rehab is “right on schedule” and that it’s “possible” he could be ready for the start of training camp on July 24.
The team is understandably taking things slowly, but "the goal is to have him on the field for Week 1.”
For his part, Gronkowski, who tore his ACL in a game with the Cleveland Browns in Week 14 last year, spoke fluent Patriots-ese when speaking with Benjamin Volin of The Boston Globe:
Just doing what I got to do, improving every week, and that’s all I can ask for. I just worry about what I’ve got to do, and what I’ve got to do right now is rehab and get better. Just take it week by week and day by day from here on out. We’ll see what happens and we’ll see where I’m at when it all starts.
Thanks for clearing that up Rob.
The Pats are no doubt hopeful that Gronkowski gets back on the field as soon as possible because, as Chris Wesseling of NFL.com pointed out, his presence makes a slight difference on the field for the team:
Brady in decline? Over a 5-week span with Gronk healthy last year, Pats led NFL with 36 points and 473 yards per game http://t.co/psEFtZh7M8
— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) June 21, 2014
Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, Houston Texans
When the Houston Texans made Jadeveon Clowney the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, they no doubt weren't planning on the former South Carolina star already being on the shelf.
That's what's happened though. The ink was barely dry on Clowney's rookie deal before he underwent sports hernia surgery.
Bleacher Report's Dr. Dave Siebert recently inked an excellent in-depth look at the procedure, and Clowney's timetable for recovery:
If all goes well, Clowney can and will take the field long before the start of the 2014 regular season. Given the fact that his medical team surely consists of the best in the world, there is not yet reason to expect anything less.
Then again, until Clowney returns to full speed, fans should pay attention to his bursting and cutting abilities—the types of motions that bring about inguinal disruption groin pain, if it still exists. A relative lack of agility could mean Clowney is dealing with ongoing issues.
It's troubling whenever a young player (especially one being counted on to play a prominent role as a rookie) loses valuable camp reps, and as Lindsay Jones of USA Today reported, Clowney wouldn't guarantee he'll be on the field when training camp begins.
However, Clowney also said he intends to turn this negative into a positive:
I figure I've got some extra motivation now. I could've done anything I wanted this next month, if I hadn't gotten hurt. No telling how I would've acted if I had gone home. But this kind of brought me back. They always talk about nothing is set in stone. Well, you really see the light. I just need to get healthy so I can ball out.
It's an admirable attitude. But, with Clowney making the move from defensive end to outside linebacker in the Texans' 3-4, an already steep learning curve just got that much steeper.
Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals
In the 2010 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions used the second overall pick on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, signing him to a $68 million rookie deal.
When the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Geno Atkins two rounds later, his rookie deal was peanuts compared to that whopper, but after playing every bit as well as Suh (if not better) over their first three NFL seasons, Atkins got his fat payday last year.
Not too long after signing that $55 million extension, Atkins tore his ACL in a game in Miami.
With the Bengals featuring a new defensive coordinator and a new starter at defensive end this year, getting their best lineman back in action as soon as possible is a priority.
In that respect, the news from the Queen City has been relatively positive.
Granted, given that Atkins tore up his knee on Halloween, the big man's status for training camp, and even the preseason, is by no means certain.
However, when asked by Paul Dehner Jr. of Cincinnati.com whether Atkins' status for Week 1 was in doubt, head coach Marvin Lewis said, "I don't have any concern, no. Geno's intent is whenever he can get back. But, again, you have to go through the process."
Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts
After back-to-back playoff appearances and an AFC South title in 2013, the Indianapolis Colts enter the 2014 with lofty expectations—not making the playoffs, or winning a postseason game.
It's Super Bowl or bust.
Of course, if the Colts are going to accomplish that goal, they're going to need all hands on deck. That most certainly includes wide receiver Reggie Wayne, whose 13th NFL season was cut short by an ACL tear in the Colts' huge win over the Denver Broncos in Week 7 last year.
Wayne didn't mince any words when asked by Mike Wells of ESPN whether he'll be ready for training camp in July:
No problems. I'm chomping at the bit to get out there. Like I told our receiving coach (Charlie Williams), I'm the Chevy that's in the garage. As soon as you open the garage, I'm out, I'm gone. I'm just waiting until they tell me I can suit up and be a normal football player.
However, as Bob Kravitz of USA Today pointed out, given Wayne's age (35) recovery from an injury this severe is no sure bet.
Can a 35-year-old wide receiver come back from a full ACL tear and return to the same form he's shown through more than a decade of unbridled excellence?
Look, we root for Wayne, one of the best players and best guys ever to come through Indianapolis. We root for him to come back like the old Wayne — not an old Wayne — running precise routes, taking over games, catching almost everything thrown his way.
If anybody can hold back the hands of time, it's Wayne.
But this is no sure deal.
Didn't we say the same thing about Marvin Harrison before a knee injury at roughly the same time in his career left him in a dramatically diminished state? Isn't 35 a little bit old, in football years, to be fighting back from major knee surgery?
"I know what my age is. So I'm geeked to show everybody what I can do at age 35."
Jason Hatcher, DE, Washington Redskins
Not much went right for the Dallas Cowboys on defense in 2013, but tackle Jason Hatcher was a bright spot, posting a career-high 11 sacks in his eighth NFL season.
Hatcher parlayed that breakout into a big payday, inking a four-year, $27.5 million contract with Washington that raised more than a few eyebrows around the NFL.
Those eyebrows went even higher when it was announced that Hatcher would miss 4-6 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
Hatcher downplayed the injury while speaking with Brian McNally of The Washington Times:
It’s old stuff, man. I don’t know a particular play, but I don’t want to go into the season 80 percent. I want to be 100, so I can be the best Hatch for this football team, for this defense, so I can help our team get better.
Head coach Jay Gruden also didn't sound overly concerned. “We don’t feel like it’s a long-term thing,” Gruden said. “Any time you have a surgery there’s a little bit of a concern. But I think from what I’m told, the severity of it is not that great…There was no major damage in there whatsoever."
Still, we are talking about a 32-year-old player coming off by far the biggest season of his career making a position switch (to end in Washington's 3-4 front).
Add in Washington's recent luck (or lack of it) in recent years with free agents (especially defensive tackles), and it's not surprising that fans are sweating a little.
The recovery timeline will put Hatcher right up against the beginning of camp, but given his age expect to see Washington's coaching staff play it safe with Hatcher.