All-Indispensable Team: Players AFC teams can least afford to lose
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Before reading another word, knock on wood. Pray that the spate of injuries ransacking NFL training camps does not arrive at the doorstep of a crucial player near you.
Sure, injuries are just part of the game. But it also is true that some injuries are more devastating than others. Here, then, is a look at the one player each AFC team could least afford to lose to injury. Call them the "crippling" injuries when it comes to a team's hopes for 2009. And since losing a starting quarterback, obviously, would be devastating to every team, we left them out of this little exercise.
(Listed alphabetically, by franchise city)
Baltimore Ravens, Derrick Mason
How good would the Ravens' defense be without Ray Lewis? Sure, it would be a severe loss if Lewis went down, but the Ravens "D" still would be VERY good. Not so when it comes to the Ravens offense, second-year quarterback Joe Flacco or the backfield tandem of Ray Rice and Willis McGahee.
Mason has put together a borderline Hall of Fame career. When he decided to come back from his brief retirement, it made Flacco a better quarterback and guaranteed that opponents wouldn't stack eight defenders in the box to stop the run.
Mason is in the final year of his contract and likely will retire for keeps after the season. Keeping him on the field is crucial to virtually all Ravens hopes. Other than that, he's not important at all.
Buffalo Bills, Aaron Schobel
Forget Terrell Owens or Trent Edwards or any other headline-grabber for a moment. When Schobel has his health and his game, he lifts the Bills defense to higher places. Last year, he had neither, missing all but five games. And whether it was because of injury or age catching up to Schobel, he had just 7.5-sacks since 2006, after accumulating 26 sacks the previous two years.
This year, Schobel appears healthier and spry. The younger players on the defensive side, specifically linebacker Paul Posluszny and Aaron Maybin, can learn a lot from him, if he can stay healthy all year long. If not, well, you're probably looking at a second consecutive season of finishing in the bottom-five in sacks in the NFL.
Cincinnati Bengals, Chris Henry
Cheering for the consummately troubled Chris Henry is sort of like pulling for the Red Sea against Moses. It's just not right. There are so many other, better people wearing Bengals uniforms you could consider to be pivotal.
But Henry truly has been the biggest piece of the Bengals' offense thus far, much more so than Chad Ochocinco, in fact. In his first preseason game, Henry torched the Saints for 100-yards receiving and a pair of deep balls. You can question his style, his work ethic and even his hands. But when it's money time of late, Henry's athleticism and ability to snag a ball out of the air has proved vital.
He says he's a new man. He says his days of being in the wrong place at the wrong time are over. We can only presume he won't take himself off the field then. If injuries don't, either, the Bengals could see a big year from Henry.
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