Teams still finding their way in treating potential head injuries
Steelers said Hines Ward passed concussion test after having supposed stinger
Jahvid Best's next concussion will put career in jeopardy, no matter when it occurs
Until he adds flexibility, Miles Austin likely to keep having muscle strain issues
Week 10 brings conflict to football families and fantasy players as the NFL Network starts its run of Thursday games this week with a California clash between the Raiders and Chargers. In some households, the game or Grey's Anatomy will test marriages, but in some leagues, it will test memories. A significant number of leagues use a "first game lock," which means that once the Thursday game starts, roster changes are over. This is a rule setting I hate for obvious reasons, but one you need to check on before you get bit. If you're in an FGL league, you have to avoid as much risk as possible when setting the lineup, passing on questionable players without significant upside.
Ward quickly passed his concussion testing this week and should be fine to play on Sunday in Cincinnati. Stinger? What stinger? The Steelers seem to have forgotten all about the stinger they said Ward suffered after his hit by Ray Lewis. It's no better than the "dirt in the eye" line the Eagles gave a few weeks ago regarding a hit on Michael Vick that left the Eagles QB visibly wobbly. There's simply no reason for it. If a team believes they gain an advantage by not saying concussion and leaving it open in the other team's mind, why say anything? A simple "Hines Ward is being evaluated by medical personnel and is questionable to return" says enough and isn't a weasel's way out. I'm not sure how much sideline reports like this make it to the other team. I'm sure teams notice that Ward (or anyone) is out and they'll get some eyes on him, but diluting the concussion message with misdirection isn't helping anyone.
If there's some balance for the Ward situation, it's Keller. While I remain skeptical about using officials as concussion monitors, it worked well in its first test. After Keller made his ridiculous leap and landed hard, one of the officials apparently asked the Jets to take a look at him. He was evaluated on the sidelines, cleared, and returned later. Most notably, he was tested and cleared. There's some debate about how affected Keller was and whether anyone who needs to be tested should return to play, but I'll defer to the doctors and trainers on the sidelines. Then again, the fact that we have questions reminds us that maybe these evaluations should be done by someone independent. No matter, what we know is that the system of monitoring and calling for evaluations appears to have worked. Keller's non-diagnosis of concussion on the scene removes him from the NFL protocols, so he's very likely to play normally.
We'll close out the head trauma trilogy with Best, who looks to be returning at some point after recurrent post-concussion symptoms had some discussing shutting him down. Best could be at practice this week, though he remains very unlikely to play come game time Sunday against the Bears. Sources tell me Best is "mostly symptom free," but the team and Best's entourage is worried about exertion and that dreaded "next hit." Best has been told that whether that hit comes next week or next year, there's not a significant difference, so unless he decides to walk away altogether, it's not going to help him to sit out now. Best is very likely out for Week 10, but once you see him back at practice, he'll be very close.
Sometimes, no change is good news. Sometimes it's not. The Giants are getting both of those this week. There's no real change in Bradshaw's status with his fractured foot. He won't need surgery, but until the foot heals properly, he'll be at risk for further damage and slow the healing a normal timeline. There are still some trying to sell that he could play on it, but that doesn't seem likely for another 10 days or so. The Giants won't rule him out until later in the week, but expect Brandon Jacobs to be back in the lead role. Nicks was expected to be back, but he didn't make the progress the team had expected. He's still not running well and could miss another week with his hamstring strain. If he's not running routes normally by Friday, Tom Coughlin seems inclined to wait and go with Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz again.
So what version of the Johnson story are the Texans selling this week? Is it the "mysterious procedure will get Johnson back quickly?" No, that one's well past it's expiration date and any connection with fact. Is it the "normal recovery, running at practice?" No, that one got found out quickly when "running" didn't go hand in hand with "accelerating" and "routes." An ineffective player is no better than an injured player, and Johnson would have been that for the last couple weeks while the Texans were repeating the "he's close" mantra and the press was buying in. Now, with one game before the bye week, the expectation is that Johnson will be out again, given the full rest and hope to be 100 percent by Week 12's return. The problem is Johnson hasn't done much differently the last two weeks, indicating a lack of progress. There are estimates out there that he's at 70-80 percent, but his acceleration is coming back much more slowly. Johnson hasn't shown anything that makes me think he's going to be effective enough to be a must-play WR1, this week or three weeks from now. I hope that something changes.
(Do not let Kim Kardashian into your mind during this discussion. If you do, you're going to end up giggling like Beavis.) Austin is tight. It's really as simple as that. Talking with people who have worked with Austin both during the season and in his offseason program, they say he's a great physical specimen, but he lacks flexibility. "The dude is just hard as a rock," said one conditioning guru who worked with Austin several years ago, "and that kind of guy is in danger of exactly this kind of muscular issue. Over and over, until he gets a little looser, he's going to have a hammy or a groin all the time." Austin's Grade II strain will keep him out for 2-4 weeks. A similar injury previously cost him two games, but there was a bye week in there as well. Another missing Cowboy, Jones is still out with his high ankle sprain. Even if he gets back to practice, he'll be on the low end of a split with DeMarco Murray for a couple more weeks while he gets his full lateral mobility back. Jones is a GTD-, but playing or not, he's a bad fantasy option.
There's some mystery about what exactly is wrong with Clark, but I guess the rats are still leaking at the Colts complex. Early reports were Clark had an Achilles injury, but given what my sources are telling me, and Jim Caldwell's statement that Clark is a "quick healer" -- which is not factual, by the way -- it seems now that it's a severe foot/ankle sprain significant enough to have made surgery a very real consideration for the first 48 hours. Initial testing was mixed and images unclear, but by Tuesday, the Colts were relatively sure that Clark had escaped the worst of it. He's definitely out this week and will remain in the boot for a couple more weeks as Caldwell's healing theory is tested.
Kevin Kolb's toe isn't much better and John Skelton played well enough that the Cardinals aren't going to push too hard for Kolb's return ... Sam Bradford was back in the walking boot after Sunday's game. He played well and moved OK, but the "precautionary" line is bunk. It's still an issue. No one's in a walking boot unless they need it ... Frank Gore's ankle sprain is mild, but Jim Harbaugh is seeing some fatigue creeping in, so look for a bit more Kendall Hunter in the mix over the next few weeks ... The Browns are very concerned about Peyton Hillis, both with the hamstring strain and his affect on the team. There's some talk of putting him on IR, but that's pretty severe and unlikely, at least at this stage. Montario Hardesty is also out, meaning Chris Ogbannaya is back at RB this week ... Last week, I was worried about some line injuries for the Texans eating into Arian Foster's productivity. Didn't work out that way. What did I miss? The emergence of Lawrence Vickers at FB, which helped Foster and Ben Tate find big holes despite some dings on the O-line ... I should save this one to TextExpander because I'll be saying the same thing every week: Beanie Wells didn't practice, but is expected to play. His knee situation is under control, but the Cards are being careful with him ... Before you get too comfortable putting Roy Helu in your lineup, note Tashard Choice practiced fully on Wednesday and gives Mike Shanahan one more way to mess with your fantasy team ... Emmanuel Sanders had knee surgery this week and will miss at least two more while he heals. Antonio Brown should keep the targets ... Mohamed Massaquoi was cleared to play last week, but was showing symptoms and did not play. He was out on Wednesday, though its not clear if he's back under protocol or how that works ... The Bengals think they'll get Jermaine Gresham back this week, which is fortuitous since Donald Lee, the TE2 who had a nice game, injured his foot and is iffy for the Steelers game ... LaMarr Woodley is likely to miss this week's game, but the Steelers will give him every chance to show he's ready ... Rian Lindell is out for at least a month with his shoulder sprain. I wonder how much value a kicker really has as a defender. What percentage of tackles on special teams are made by the kicker? ... After being carted off last week, Tracy Porter is likely to be back on the field Sunday. I'm not sure whether that's amazing or scary .. Asante Samuel's lacerated groin is exactly what it sounds like. Painful, yes, but he was able to return on Monday and should miss no time.