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JUDGE: Five teams hit hardest by preseason injuries

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Clark Judge

 
   
 
Winning isn't everything in preseason football; in fact it's not anything. Injuries are. And now that the preseason is over it's time to assess who suffered most. The way I see it, there were five clubs hit hard — beginning with Miami — with others suffering out-patient damage. I don't know who made out best this summer, but I know who hurt most — and what follows are five teams that suffered the summertime bruise.

1. Miami

First the lose one lineman. Then they lose another. Now the club could open the season without starting right tackle and left guard — though both practiced this weekend — in addition to operating without and . Smith is out for the year with a knee injury, and Searcy was released after rearing his right triceps. And we haven't even mentioned , in his third week at left tackle after moving over from left guard. For those who lost count, the could open the season with a starting offensive line that played together exactly four snaps this summer. "We're left with the guys we're left with," offensive line coach Tony Wise told the Miami Herald. "It takes us from experience to inexperience." That's not good when the season is less than one week away. Miami was supposed to rise to the top of the AFC East with , but what happens to your running game when your starting offensive line is either green or absent? We're about to find out.

2. Cleveland

The loss of Pro Bowl linebacker wasn't a setback; it was a seismic shock. Miller led the club in sacks last year with 13, and it will take at least two guys to replace him — one to act as a pass-rushing defensive end and the other to play strong-side linebacker in base defense. Take your pick: there's former Dallas linebacker , pass-rush specialist ; rookie . Here's a prediction: I bet none of them produces half the sacks that Miller had a year ago. The also have a sore right arm of quarterback to think about. Couch bruised the forearm in a preseason game against Green Bay and sat out the team's summer finale. He is expected to play in Sunday's opener against Kansas City, but having a quarterback hurt entering a 16-game season never is good.

3. Arizona

Coach Dave McGinnis had next to nobody hurt this summer, then — bam! — he loses strong safety and tackle within days of each other. The good news is that Wilson should be back within a month. The bad news is the Cards, who have no pass rush, have to tackle Washington without him. Wilson is the club's best defensive player, a playmaker who can cover a running back out of the backfield or jam the box as the 8th man in. He was the one defensive starter the club could least afford to lose. Clement is out for the season with a torn triceps, and that will force McGinnis to shuffle his offensive line — moving future All-Pro from right guard to right tackle. Clement might have been the weakest link on the Cards' line, but he was part of an offensive line that had chemistry, size and strength. Arizona desperately needs a rushing game this year to take the heat off its defense and quarterback , and the loss of Clement complicates its chances.

4. Seattle

The lost quarterback in the preseason opener, and while he won't be out for the season he could miss the next month. Now the catch: Of Seattle's first four games three are against Arizona, Minnesota and the New York , and the might be able to circle the bases with you calling the shots. Fortunately, they won't have to. Seattle has , the guy coach Mike Holmgren designated his starter a year ago but who went 5-7. Dilfer was 4-0. Preseason reports on Hasselbeck's progress aren't encouraging. "He can't move that team," said one AFC player personnel director. "He's ordinary at best." But ordinary might be good enough to cut it until Dilfer comes back. The question: How much does Dilfer sacrifice by missing as much as two months and when will he really be ready? October will tell. The loss of tackle , out for the year with a neck injury, should be lessened by the pickup of . But that doesn't mean all is right with the offensive line. Pro Bowl tackle is unsigned, which means Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack — a fourth-round draft choice last year — makes his first NFL start Sunday in place of Jones.

5. Kansas City

Forget about the playing another year without wide receiver . They weren't counting on him anyway. And it's not the loss of wide receiver Marvin "Snoop" Minnis, out at least six weeks while he recovers from a broken foot, that's the concern, either. No, it's the absence of free safety , lost for the year after suffering a fractured ankle in training camp. Woods will be replaced by former Colt , and no offense to Belser, but there's a balance-of-trade deficit there. Woods has size and speed; is a sure tackler and can cover in zone or man-to-man defenses. He's fierce, he's aggressive and he's fearless — someone the ' media guide described as "arguably the toughest player on the entire Kansas City squad." When you're in a division with Oakland you want to have people like that around. Yes, Woods was invaluable, serving as a cornerback when opponents spread the field with four wideouts, and his absence will hold the back ... again. Clark Judge can be reached at his e-mail address, cjudge@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Browns, Chiefs, Dolphins, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Panthers, Cardinals, Brent Smith, Ricky Williams, Anthony Clement, Leonard Davis, Adrian Wilson, Walter Jones, Matt Hasselbeck, Kevin Bentley

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