Foster still uncertain for opener, Peyton improving and more notes
It's too early to tell whether Arian Foster will miss Week 1 with a bad hamstring
Peyton Manning's inuured neck is improving and he's on track to play in Week 1
Despite chronic foot & toe problems, Antonio Gates is still among the top TEs
With one more game and a few more practices before teams really hit that "normal" rhythm, we're caught between keeping players healthy and getting players ready. With final cuts coming, these last games are going to be scouted heavily and the intensity will be notched up. That could mean a few more injuries for the guys who will be backups and special teamers. We won't see many of the starters, which brings up a question. Since we all seemed so worried about the changes the lockout caused in offseason prep, will changing the way playing time was apportioned in the preseason games change things? Just as with the offseason changes, I think it will be entirely individualized. It's easy to say things have simple causes, like Jim Haslett did a couple years ago when Steven Jackson was injured shortly after a holdout, but it's seldom simple. There's a holistic view that's so difficult to have in this 24-hour, Twitter-speed news cycle. It's not always easy to step back in order to get the right context and perspective, but it's always important. I like being first, but I like being right more. Let's get to the injuries:
I'm not a doctor, but I have a lot of the best doctors in the world on speed dial. When Arian Foster decided to tweet out a view of his hamstring, I didn't guess, I started calling people like Dr. Orr Limpisvasti from the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic. He didn't hesitate to bring up the issue that no one else wanted to bring up: the view. "The single slice of the MRI provided is quite inadequate to determine the extent of tissue damage to his entire hamstring. Even if the entire MRI scan were reviewed, the injury signal still doesn't always correlate well with clinical outcomes and sports performance. This discrepancy has been true for much of the MRI research performed on muscle injuries as well as in the clinical practice of sports medicine. The best indication of the true severity of this injury and how it will affect his performance are his clinical examinations and response to treatment. The player and his team's medical staff clearly have the best understanding of this. It would be a stretch to attempt an accurate prediction of his prognosis based on that single image." With ten days before the Texans suit up, the consensus opinion among the doctors, and other medical personnel I spoke with was, that even with the full suite of tools that we normally get from the MRI (here's a nice example of other views of the hamstring), it was still 50-50 for him to play, but that it was unlikely he would be at full strength. That means more carries for Ben Tate or Derrick Ward ... or both. The Colts defense gave up enough rushing yards to Foster last year that there's plenty to go around even split among three backs. One last note: one of the doctors I spoke with questioned the veracity of this MRI. "How do we know it's Fosters?" he asked. "It's easy enough to type in a name. The SSN slot is wrong and if it was really his, that's just stupid on his part." He wasn't even sure of the size of the leg matching his expectations of what an NFL RB should have. It's certainly something to consider given Foster's later comments about people having no sense of humor.
There's a difference between "recurrent" and "chronic." (I'm not talking to you, Snoop.) A recurrent injury is one that happens again, in the same spot and same way. A chronic injury is one that recurs again and again, due to the injury weakening the area past its ability to heal enough to prevent further injury. Crabtree came into the league with a stress fracture in his foot and that's what he has again this time. It's the same location and the fix was the same, minor surgery to put in a pin. He's shown he can overcome this and it's not an uncommon injury. Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger dealt with similar fractures last season and played through them. They're not WRs though, reliant on their feet as much. Crabtree will be limited, but his routes can be designed to lessen the stress. It's a long term concern, but I think Crabtree is falling too much in drafts, making him a mid-to-late round steal.
Peyton Manning returned to practice on Monday, coming off the PUP list as expected. While the PUP is a procedural move, it's what Manning has been able to do that's much more important. While he's not at full strength, observers at practice say that he's not having difficulties going through the passing tree. He's not yet throwing deep balls, facing coverage, or making reads, but it's enough to know that he could. The biggest test is going to be contact, of course, and that has less to do with Manning and more with the line. Rookie blindsider Anthony Costanzo is going to be the key person to keep Peyton from getting hit and draws a tough matchup in Week 1. Costanzo will get a lot of help, covering him with big blocking TE Brody Eldridge, holding in Joseph Addai on most plays, and creating schemes where the LG (likely Air Joe Reitz) will be freed up. This is a similar scheme to what the Eagles have used in the past and the Colts line is pretty well set up to handle this, especially against Houston's new 3-4 set. This setup will also limit the 3 WR sets that the Colts will be able to use. They have Dallas Clark as a de facto WR2, but don't think you can go three or four deep with Indy WRs and get fantasy value. Manning should be drafted where you would have put him. Disregard the injury and accept the risk.
It's hard to get a read on Wes Welker and his neck injury right now. In this last week of preseason football, teams are much more concerned about avoiding injury than they are in getting people back from it. Welker's neck wasn't thought to be an issue just after the initial problem and there's nothing since then that makes us rethink the assessment. Treatment is not indicative of anything in this case. It's standard and Welker, along with most NFL players, receive some sort of treatment regularly. Most close observers and scouts think Welker will be out there Week 1, though many wonder if his targets will be slightly down. "It's more about the ten million options that [Tom] Brady has right now. If Welker loses a couple looks to [Chad] Ochocinco or [Danny] Woodhead, is that so bad? Does that have anything to do with his neck?" Great point and one to remember in case the target numbers are off slightly.
Jeremy Maclin wasn't tackled by cancer, but the issues he did have this summer kept him not only from normal workouts, but any sort of physical activity. Maclin came out of it much better than the Eagles expected. Sources tell me that as Maclin's diagnostics ran longer and longer, they were more and more worried about him missing parts of the season (though they fully supported and understood the reason for it.) Once he got back to the team, they were pleasantly surprised by his conditioning. Maclin appears to be on track for his normal WR2 role, though it's tough to say if he'll get the same number of targets in Michael Vick's offense early in the season. He's both a nice WR3/4 pick in drafts and a player to watch in the first few weeks if you don't get him. Reduced target numbers early might make him a good trade target.
Antonio Gates made it through a week of practice, which is a very positive sign. His chronic foot and toe problems haven't hurt his production, since he's still a great red zone target. (Of course, so is Tony Gonzalez, who keeps dropping in ADP for no apparent reason.) Gates' foot problem isn't completely in the rearview, but a positive sign is a positive sign. The key here will be to watch how he's handled next week. The Chargers are going to be careful with him, but it's unclear exactly how careful. Getting some more time with Philip Rivers will help, but Gates' value is held up by that one ultra-valuable fantasy skill. Balance the risk with the reward and you'll find Gates isn't a bad pick for the first TE off the board, but there are other options.
Labrum tears are usually problems for pitchers or even QBs, but John Carlson has a big one. It's going to end his season as he won't have time to return from it after surgery to repair it and to clean up associated damage inside his shoulder. A TE like Carlson uses his shoulder both blocking and reaching up for the ball, so it's easy to see why he'd have such a difficult time. Sources tell me the tear is "significant, really nasty" and that there wasn't much question that surgery was going to be the route they'd have to go. Carlson gave it a quick shot to see if they could manage the pain and keep him productive, but it was quickly apparent it wasn't going to work. He was going to lose fantasy value to Zach Miller anyway, but this does hurt the Seahawk QB, whoever it is. The blocking is already weak and losing the cover TE isn't going to help. Seattle will have a close eye on the waiver wire next week.
Chris Johnson's holdout might end, but in the meantime, a lot of people have been looking at Javon Ringer as more than the typical handcuff. The problem is that one group that hasn't gotten a look at Ringer lately is the Titans coaching staff. Ringer's been out with a hip strain at precisely the time where he could have gained some valuable looks. He's expected to be back for Week 1, but his value is slipping. Remember that the Titans chose Ringer over LaGarrette Blount last season, so they had to have seen something in him despite Blount's 2011 breakout, a la Ryan Grant when he was dealt to the Packers. Ringer's still a nice handcuff, but don't expect much more out of him than being what he was last year.
Percy Harvin's made it through this much of the preseason with no migraine issues. That's a positive, but I'm unconvinced that we can discount his availability issues at all. Don't reach too high for him ... Doesn't the Chris Johnson holdout feel a lot like last year's Darrelle Revis situation? ... The Colts still haven't seen anything from Anthony Gonzalez or Austin Collie. Neither will play Thursday and Gonzalez is likely to be cut. Collie is in more danger than most will acknowledge, though Manning's neck may help him. Manning will want familiar faces to throw to, but as noted in the Manning section, the Colts won't be going with many 3 WR sets ... Kenny Britt avoided suspension, but he didn't avoid a hamstring strain. He's expected to be ready for Week 1, though he's "way behind" according to some observers when it comes to working with new QB Matt Hasselbeck ... James Laurinaitis is still having problems with his severely strained pectoral muscle. He's likely to have to play in some sort of brace, which could limit his tackling ability ... Some are worried about James Harrison being behind with conditioning. When asked about it, one source reminded me "Yeah, until the adrenaline kicks in and he goes into Crazy Guy mode." Oh ... If you didn't click that Snoop Youth Football League link above, you should. The rapper's passion for youth football is pretty amazing. Moreover, he's partnered with Xenith to make sure that the kids in his league have a higher level of safety than the NFL has currently ... I'll have two weekly chats this season, one on Friday to help you set your lineups and Sunday morning to make sure you avoid those last-minute mistakes. Those will start next week.