Bradford offers Rams some good news amid host of early injuries
Despite lack of grip strength at practice, Sam Bradford likely will play in Week 2
Rams hope to have Steven Jackson back for Week 3 but timetable will be close
Hakeem Nicks may play on Monday night but may see his role diminished
The lockout gets blamed for a lot of things. It's an easy punching bag since no one liked it and it's hard to prove any negative. Saying that the lockout is at fault for a greater number of injuries than normal is a meme we've heard since before camp opened and it lives on despite the facts.
So far, there has been little increase in injuries. Many pointed to Achilles ruptures in camp, but overall they increased by one over 2010. ACL injuries are traumatic and come in all sorts of ways during the season. On pure numbers, they weren't outside the normal range expected during any week of the season.
Injuries are part of the game, but the medical staffs job is to prevent as many of them as possible by having the players healthy and ready, then to reduce the severity and time loss of the ones that do occur. Stats like Football Outsiders' Adjusted Games Lost have given us some insight into which teams do that best. It's a long season and injuries are just one more thing to overcome, whether you're headed to the Super Bowl or to your next fantasy championship. Let's get to the injuries:
Bradford got a bit lucky, coming away from hitting his throwing hand on a helmet in Week 1 with just a bruise. This wasn't your normal bruise however. This was a nerve bruise, which is exactly what it sounds like. The nerve was "shocked" by the trauma and impinged by it as well. If you've ever hit your funny bone and had your hand go numb, that's similar to what Bradford was dealing with in his index finger.
The feeling has come back but Bradford didn't have full grip strength as of Wednesday. He'll have until right up before gametime to get that back, though all indications are that he's making enough progress to play. With as many Rams as got dinged in Week 1, Bradford's presence will be even more key. Look for more short routes and less "touch" on his passes as Josh McDaniel adjusts the playbook to keep Bradford's finger from becoming too much of an issue. Practice reports on Wednesday were very positive, so it looks safe to play him. I'll have updates of course during my Friday chat.
Sanchez was "groggy" and "slow to react" toward the end of Sunday night's game. Post-game, there was more of the same, leading many to question whether or not Sanchez had a concussion. On Monday, the team had him take some tests, likely including the ImPACT test, and the team said he passed. The problem here is not whether or not Sanchez had a de facto concussion, but that he apparently had some symptoms of a concussion and was not checked on the spot. Did the trainers not see him? Did the coaches not recognize the symptoms, or worse, not report it? This is a pure failure of the system that's in place as much as last year's Stewart Bradley incident.
Merry Christmas, fantasy players. Your No. 1 pick is back at practice and expected to play this week. Foster, the 1-1 in a majority of leagues, came back to practice and looked "normal," according to both Gary Kubiak and observers who saw him. There's still some risk here from a fantasy standpoint as Ben Tate impressed and came out of Week 1 healthy. (Derrick Ward is iffy after his early ankle sprain.) Tate has long been thought of as more talented than Foster, but hasn't been healthy enough to press that advantage. With Foster still not 100 percent, Tate rising, and a game plan that has to be salivating at what the Pats did to the Dolphins secondary, it's hard to recommend either Foster or Tate as solid plays, though Foster tends to be a must-play based on where he was drafted.
Jackson paid the price for that season-opening long TD run, straining his quad on the play. It was readily apparent when it happened, right about the 20-yard line. Jackson was able to keep his momentum, but he wasn't going to be able to put any more pressure on the leg. A burst or cut could have done even more damage. The injury is a moderate strain, high on the leg. Since Jackson tends to be a dropstep guy as he starts his run, he won't put too much pressure on the leg during acceleration but each step will tax it. The Rams didn't think they could get him back to a productive level this week, and with a healthy Cadillac Williams, they quickly shut Jackson down with the hope that the rest will have him back for Week 3. "It's going to be close" for that, they said, so Williams is a better-than-average waiver pickup this week.
When the network won't show a replay of an injury because it's "too graphic," it's never good. (Why can't they do that for about half of the reality shows? Do I really need to see another show about looking for valuables in junk?) Amendola's injury was graphic, a dislocated elbow that was, I'm sure, painful to see.
The problem with dislocations is that the injury itself is painful, but quickly remedied. If you saw Kerry Collins get his finger bent sideways by a Jeff Saturday snap early in the Colts' walloping, you watched the Colts doc pop it back in and Collins go right back to ... well, playing QB. The problem isn't the dislocation itself, but the associated damage. There's no way to tell from something being dislocated how much damage is done. Until there are more tests, all that we know is that it's in or not back in, not how many tendons, ligaments and/or muscles were torn when the bone popped out of place. It comes down to that damage and the pain tolerance of the player, which is why there's really no good estimate for how long Amendola would be out. People hounded me on Twitter for a time frame, but "zero to 24 weeks" isn't helpful. The most plausible scenario is that the Rams try to get him back by Week 7, giving him several weeks, including their bye. If you have patience and the roster slot, Amendola could be a nice buy-low, but there's risk.
Nicks hyperextended his knee in the first quarter, but continued to play in Week 1. Nicks is a solid WR, perhaps not an ideal WR1 but good enough to be a solid fantasy player. The skill he lacks is health and perhaps the ability to create in the way a Calvin Johnson or Plaxico Burress can with size and separation. Nicks needs to run precise routes, which leads back to his knee. Even the slightest loss of a step is going to make Nicks slide from above average to average. Any reduction of the routes he runs or the slightest lack of confidence from Eli Manning and Nicks' value plummets. Manning quickly found Mario Manningham last year when Nicks was out, and he saw seven targets to Nicks' 10, according to ProFootballFocus. While Nicks thinks he'll play Monday night, I'm not sure he's going to have the same opportunities, even against a weakened St. Louis secondary.
It's pretty amazing how fast players can come back from serious surgery these days, but "back" is a pretty vague term. Welker played all of last year at a pretty high level, but his quotes throughout the season showed he didn't feel he was playing at his best. A significant portion of that, many believe, is confidence and the further a player gets from surgery without setback or loss of function, the more it comes back. Watching Welker explode for that 99-yard TD on Monday night shows me that Welker's confidence is finally back near the 100 percent mark.
There's a physical process called "ligamentization" that takes place, as the replacement structure begins to change into the actual structure. With Tommy John surgery, it takes about five years for the transplanted tendon to make a cell for cell replacement until it is physically indistinguishable from the original tendon. There's some data that the transplanted structure is actually slightly stronger during this period. The ACL is usually replaced with a cadaver tendon, but the same holds true.
It was a bit of a surprise on Wednesday afternoon when Johnson didn't make it out on the field for practice. Word is that he has a sore shoulder, but there's not much more in the way of details. The Lions seemed to overcome tough conditions on Sunday without significant injuries. Several players, including Matthew Stafford, were dehydrated and cramped, but none of these added up to significant problems. It's unclear where Johnson might have been injured, though his nice TD catch did have a bit of an awkward landing, as "tightrope catches" tend to have. Johnson has shown every skill you want in a WR1 except health. Indications are that Johnson is expected to play. At this stage, it's hard to upgrade anyone, though Titus Young might see more targets than the one he did last week. Pro Football Focus shows that Young was on the field for 42 plays, about the same as Nate Burleson, so if Calvin Johnson slides from his 68 plays or 10 targets, that's the likely shift.
Andy Dalton's wrist has no structural damage, but he's still in doubt for Sunday. Bruce Gradkowski would step in again and will get much of the practice snaps as well ... Mike Tolbert had a blowout Week 1, but didn't blow out his knee. He had a "nasty bruise" late in the game, but no real damage. He's expected to play and should get his normal workload, though Ryan Mathews may get a couple extra touches ... Dez Bryant really was on rubber legs in the fourth quarter, which got many -- including Drew Pearson -- on to his case about conditioning. I've heard time and again that Bryant doesn't take anything but his own targets seriously, getting by on natural talent ... Michael Crabtree was in significant pain with his foot after Week 1. That doesn't bode well ... Sidney Rice was limited at practice and will be, at best, a GTD ... Sammie Stroughter needs to have a bone in his foot fixated. He'll miss a month ... Initial reports were bad, but the final report on Kevin Walter was "just a bruise." He's day to day ... Kevin Boss is still very iffy for Week 2, but the Raiders showed their offense has made steps. He'll be a nice weapon for them once his knee is healthy ... Nate Kaeding blew out his ACL on the first kickoff of the season. He's on IR and the Chargers have signed Nick Novak, who will get the opportunities people drafted Kaeding to get ... Dan Koppen needed his ankle surgically fixated. He won't be back before Week 10 ... Willie Colon tore his triceps and will miss the rest of the season. The Steelers are scrambling a bit for line help ... Of all the Rams' injuries, Ron Bartell's is the worst. What they thought was a stinger turned out to be a broken vertebrae. This is why teams always treat any neck injury very carefully. Bartell should be thankful it was recognized ... The Broncos defense had several players miss practice Wednesday. Watch to see if guys like Elvis Dumervil and Champ Bailey are back on Friday ... Eric Berry is done for the season after tearing his ACL. Big loss for the Chiefs defense, especially in the run game ... The Redskins are taking it day by day, but think LaRon Landry will be back on the field this week, though they'll likely have to spot him out at times ... The Colts will miss two LBs this week. Ernie Sims has a Grade II knee sprain and Gary Brackett has a Grade II shoulder sprain. That's going to upgrade Peyton Hillis a lot ... The Packers will be without Mike Neal for a while -- "weeks" according to Mike McCarthy -- after surgery this week for an undisclosed condition ... Luis Castillo had his broken tibia fixated. There's a chance he could come back late this season ... We're going to see this new test in football, soon and a lot.