McNabb, MJD, Beanie the topics of injury speculation before Week 1
Div. III coach John Gagliardi has cut concussions by cutting out hitting at practice
Chris Ivory's injury could open goal-line opportunities for Saints' Pierre Thomas
Larry Fitzgerald's size will garner him catches despite lingering knee issue
Reading MMQB this week, I was struck by Jerry Jones' comments. I dread the injuries that will pile up under an 18-game schedule and I shivered when I read the league has the ability to stretch the season to "22 games." More than the games, though, it's the part about preparation that struck me. It's difficult to quantify, but a significant number of NFL injuries come during practice. Just this year, Elvis Dumervil and Dominique Foxworth had their seasons ended on practice plays that left one wondering what the teams hoped to accomplish with those sorts of drills.
Some routines look better-suited for the undercard of a UFC fight -- except the UFC does a lot better with concussion management than the NFL does. That made me wonder if the future of the NFL is a shift from the Masters of War approach that's built from the deification of Vince Lombardi and continues in top coaches like Rex Ryan ("When in doubt, knock him out" might have been uttered by Mike Westhoff, but can't you hear Rex, or even Buddy Ryan, saying that?).
Possibly, an 84-year old guy that holds the key. John Gagliardi is a coaching legend, winning 471 games for Division III St. John's in rural Minnesota. His coaching philosophy is built on no's -- no whistles, no playbook, no calling him "coach," but most notably, there's no hitting in practice. No hitting? In an NFL where people believe that the body becomes accustomed to taking hits and that getting hit prevents injuries, St. John's has a program where they've virtually eliminated concussions. Call me crazy, but maybe next year, NFL Films should do Hard Knocks in Collegeville, Minn.
But now, let's get to the real injuries:
News broke early Thursday that Brady was involved in a car accident. Early word from the scene was pretty scary. According to WEEI, a sedan hit a van hard enough that an occupant of the van needed "jaws of life" to be cut from the vehicle. The driver of the sedan, said to be Brady, was treated at the scene and did not need to go to the hospital. It sounds like it was quite the impact and we'll have to see if Brady is sore and especially how his hands are. When the airbag releases, in many cases the hands or thumbs can be injured. Brady is said to be headed to the Pats facility as I write this, so follow SI.com for more details.
Assuming Brady emerges from this unhurt, he's not invincible.
Brady talked on Wednesday about the physical toll the game has taken on him, listing off three of the four surgeries he's had over the last few years. He couldn't remember the fourth, which makes me wonder a bit about concussions. Brady's shoulder is always sore, which has landed him a regular spot on the OIR, but always with a "probable" listing that might as well be "stone cold lock."
Playing behind a line that appeared increasingly inefficient in the preseason, we'll have to see how Bill Belichick adjusts to keep Brady protected and off the OIR for something else.
You'll often hear "100 percent" thrown around, but there are very few players that are actually 100 percent once we get past the first week of the preseason. NFL football is a brutal game that we as outsiders cannot possibly understand as far as the pain and physical toll. McNabb isn't 100 percent, but he doesn't have to be to be effective.
One of the hardest things in sports is what one scout called "the real now." Close your eyes and imagine McNabb and your brain will call up some great scrambling play, most likely from the Eagles' Super Bowl season. This is 2010 and McNabb's not that guy. He hasn't been since his knee injury, and tacking more age and a shaky line onto things isn't going to help. McNabb has heard he's "not a pocket passer" so often that it's surprising that he became just that. McNabb's ankle is fine, though it could be tested by lots of hits that force him to bail early and try to re-create the scrambling he did early in his career.
It's odd to write about someone who's column is next to mine here at SI Fantasy. Jones-Drew isn't giving me any inside info, but do we really need it to solve the mystery of his knee issue? The key here, again, is function. Whether Drew had minor surgery (unlikely) or may need it in the future (likely) due to some meniscus problems only matters when it comes to this: Can he put up points? The answer appears to be yes, with one caveat: if Jones-Drew loses a bit of his shiftiness, he's shown a tendency in the past to initiate contact. Jones-Drew was left off the OIR, which tells us something, but not what we really want to know. Yes, he'll play and given where you drafted him, you have to play him, risky or not. We'll know a lot more after Sunday. I'll be watching him closely.
Remember when Mike Shanahan ruined fantasy seasons by switching the Broncos RB every week, usually just before game time? Now, it's the Broncos with an unsettled situation in the backfield while Shanahan has Clinton Portis ready to take on a feature load in Washington. Sometimes, I don't recognize this world.
Moreno proved that he could handle a feature-back load last season and also proved he could come back from a preseason injury to put up solid numbers. There are issues there -- the YPC, the fumbles -- but the Broncos didn't do much to help Moreno along. With Ryan Clady a big question mark, there could be issues with passing, so Moreno might be used to draw things to the right side of the offense.
Buckhalter is going to be in the mix, but he's got back issues of his own, so a 60-40 split is more likely. The wild card here is Tim Tebow. No one seems to know how, if at all, the "Wildhorse" formation factors in to the Broncos offense, especially toward the goal line. Moreno's a decent play this week, but double-check your options.
Do we call him "Chris" or "Beanie"? I need a ruling on this. Either way, Wells wasn't able to practice on Wednesday. While Ken Whisenhunt thinks Wells will play, Tim Hightower looks to be taking the lion's share of carries in Week 1. Since most places have listed Hightower as the RB1 for a while, this is really more about whether Wells will get enough carries to establish himself and get the red zone carries. Given the leg injury, it doesn't look like that will happen this week. Beyond that, there's a question as to whether Derek Anderson (or eventually, Max Hall) will be able to establish enough of a passing threat to keep defenses honest. Wells was likely an overdraft in most cases, so look for any chance to deal him.
The Cardinals don't seem too worried about Fitzgerald going into Week 1. Despite the knee injury not being all the way back, Fitzgerald is both big enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like him ... oh wait, big enough and smart enough to be productive is all we need. His size will allow him to "post up" and he showed in practice that he can jump, leaving the jump-ball TD pass a possibility, even if he has to do it lay-up style. Given the known issue and the amount of time the Cards offense has had to adjust to Fitzgerald's limitations, it's not unreasonable to think that Fitzgerald will lose some targets, but will be put into situations where the knee won't be as much of an issue. That means fewer double moves and quick cuts, but Fitzgerald should be able to succeed even with those limits. If you have Fitzgerald, you either drafted him in the first couple rounds or you were lucky and had him fall to you after the injury. Either way, even limited, he's a must start.
Holding on to the ball is one of those skills that is just assumed in a running back. We don't think about it until someone turns into a butterfingers and starts to wear that scarlet F on their jersey. Bush certainly will have a problem holding on to the ball for a while. A fractured thumb is going to make it very difficult to get a solid grip on the ball, even with two hands. Even with a brace, the inability to shift the thumb will make him more likely to fumble. Bush had surgery, and I underestimated the time it's going to take him to be ready. It's one thing to be able to do what a physical therapist would call "activities of daily living" and quite another to hang out to the ball as one safety tries to hit you so hard that you split in half and the other safety is trying to strip the ball. So when Tom Cable starts saying Bush could play in Week 1, I'm just not sure what he's seeing. Even if he does play, weeks ahead of where everyone expected him to do so, I'm not trusting him to be productive.
Jamaal Charles' arm is healthy enough that any carries he loses to Thomas Jones is due to Todd Haley and Charlie Weis ... For those asking, Wes Welker isn't 100 percent physically, but he's 100 percent functionally, which is what you care about ... Fred Taylor is going to get the nod over Laurence Maroney in Week 1. Maroney's groin has kept him out of practice thus far. He's likely to play, but not get the bulk of carries ... Jonathan Stewart is as healthy as he was at any point last season. Ignore "did not practice" when you see it and expect more red zone work this year ... I'll be stunned if Steve Smith (Carolina version) is even listed as "probable" -- he's going to play and play hard ... Fred Jackson is going to play through a broken bone in his hand on Sunday, but he's not expected to get many carries behind C.J. Spiller. Jackson is a handcuff-to-injury-prone-player play at this stage, at best ... Dallas Clark was back at practice on Wednesday and looks to be the starter for the Colts in Week 1 ... One last note on the OIR -- a lot of players that have had injuries coming into this week, like Vernon Davis, Dez Bryant and Kellen Winslow, are not even listed. It's unclear if this is some kind of sea change, or if we've been seeing some over-reporting during camp.