Injuries are becoming more common

BY Alex Marvez • November 16, 2010

Roger Goodell’s heart is in the right place.

Unfortunately, too many body parts of NFL players aren’t.

Goodell has preached player safety during his push for an 18-game regular-season schedule beginning in 2012. The NFL commissioner hopes a reduction in offseason workouts and preseason games can help prevent and/or offset some of the injuries inherent in expansion.

But as it stands now, a 16-game docket seems rough enough. Dating back to the offseason, NFL teams have already placed 34 more players on injured reserve through 10 weeks (311) than at this point last year (277). The final numbers will assuredly be the highest since the NFL began playing with 32 teams in 2002.

The current list includes four Pro Bowl selections from last season: Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark, Houston middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, Philadelphia fullback Leonard Weaver and Denver outside linebacker/defensive end Elvis Dumervil. Other big names include Jacksonville DE Aaron Kampman (knee), Miami QB Chad Pennington (shoulder), Pittsburgh LT Max Starks (neck) and Green Bay RB Ryan Grant (leg). Even kickers aren’t immune with Cincinnati’s Mike Nugent and New England’s Stephen Gostkowski the latest casualties.

Some clubs are winning the battle of atrophy. Others are being decimated. Here is a breakdown of the medical status for all 32 NFL franchises:

Fit as a fiddle

Atlanta: The Falcons have a league-low four players on injured reserve. Especially encouraging is how QB Matt Ryan (toe) and RB Michael Turner (ankle) have rebounded from injuries that marred their 2009 performance. Rookie OLB Sean Weatherspoon could return Sunday at St. Louis after missing the past four games with a sprained knee.

Arizona: A concussion suffered in October by rookie QB Max Hall, combined with poor play after his return, helped give Derek Anderson the chance to re-establish himself as Arizona’s starter. A series of nagging ailments has kept RB Chris “Beanie” Wells from improving on a disappointing rookie season. Otherwise, the Cardinals don’t have injuries to blame as the main reason for a 3-6 campaign.

Buffalo: The fact Buffalo has avoided a rash of significant injuries unlike in 2009 makes the team’s 1-8 record even worse. The recent loss of WR Roscoe Parrish (wrist), who reinvented himself under first-year head coach Chan Gailey, will hurt the offense. The Bills had hoped the recent waiver-wire addition of OLB Shawne Merriman would bolster an anemic pass rush. Merriman, though, will be out for at least another game after aggravating an Achilles' tendon injury in his first Bills practice.

Chicago: The Bears haven’t had to place a player on injured reserve since late September. The three key members of the front seven — DE Julius Peppers and LBs Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs — haven’t missed a start. The offensive line has gotten healthier, and QB Jay Cutler is showing no ill effects of the concussion he suffered earlier in the season.

Kansas City: Head coach Todd Haley’s heavy offseason conditioning push is paying dividends. The Chiefs head into the second half of the season with only five players on injured reserve.

New York Jets: A veteran roster has held up surprisingly well. NT Kris Jenkins (knee) is the only major loss suffered since the regular-season opener. Jets QB Mark Sanchez deserves credit for gritting his way through a calf injury during Sunday’s overtime win against Cleveland.

Oakland: Credit good health as part of the Raiders’ resurgence. Oakland is the only team that hasn’t placed a player on injured reserve since the regular season began. RB Darren McFadden also is enjoying a breakthrough year after finally avoiding the leg maladies that marred his first two NFL seasons.

San Francisco: Troy Smith is one of four NFL quarterbacks who capitalized on injuries suffered by their teams’ starters. Troy Smith has supplanted Alex Smith (shoulder) after leading two consecutive 49ers victories. The projected four- to six-week loss of LT Joe Staley (fractured fibula) hurts. But until this point, no 49ers starter besides Alex Smith has missed a game because of injury. That remarkable stretch of good health makes San Francisco’s 3-6 record even more inexcusable.

Tampa Bay: The emergence of rookie LeGarrette Blount helped the Buccaneers weather early-season injuries at running back. After missing a month, the return of C Jeff Faine (quadriceps) should better the rushing game. Chronic knee problems may finally be catching up with TE Kellen Winslow, although he should start getting better receiving opportunities with the emergence of rookie WRs Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn.

Stable condition

Cincinnati: QB Carson Palmer has battled through shoulder and hip injuries to throw 13 touchdowns in the past six games. Unfortunately for the Bengals, Palmer also has eight interceptions in that same span as Cincinnati (2-7) continues to self-destruct. Chalk this up as another wasted year for 2009 first-round pick Andre Smith. The overweight tackle is out for the season with yet another foot injury.

Cleveland: Ankle injuries to QBs Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace initially considered devastating for the Browns actually proved fortuitous. Otherwise, impressive rookie Colt McCoy wouldn’t have gotten the chance to play. RB Peyton Hillis also has capitalized on the opportunity presented when rookie RB Montario Hardesty sustained a season-ending knee injury during the preseason. The dislocated toes suffered last Sunday by jack-of-all-trades Josh Cribbs bear watching.

Dallas: QB Tony Romo’s broken left collarbone effectively spelled the end of Dallas’ playoff aspirations. Injuries to players like LG Kyle Kosier, WR Dez Bryant and CB Terence Newman haven’t helped matters, but they shouldn’t be used as excuses in a disastrous 2-7 season that cost head coach Wade Phillips his job.

Denver: The Broncos never recovered from the preseason loss of OLB Elvis Dumervil to a torn pectoral muscle. Denver is tied for 26th in the NFL in sacks with 13. Dumervil had 17 sacks individually in 2009. Injuries also decimated Denver at running back, which made the offseason trade of RB Peyton Hillis to Cleveland look even worse.

Houston: The loss of MLB DeMeco Ryans (torn Achilles’ tendon) in Week 6 was a crushing blow for one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses. WR Andre Johnson has admirably fought through a sprained ankle to continue producing at an All-Pro level.

Jacksonville: The season-ending loss of DE Aaron Kampman (knee) during last Thursday’s practice could prove devastating to the Jaguars’ playoff hopes. Kampman was the team’s best pass rusher and a locker-room leader. A similar knee injury suffered by backup QB Luke McCown proved costly when starter David Garrard (concussion) was forced out of what became a home loss to AFC South rival Tennessee.

Minnesota: While injuries have hampered the secondary, this disappointing 3-6 season is largely the result of self-inflicted wounds. Despite the weekly injury drama surrounding Brett Favre, the quarterback has extended his NFL-record streak of regular-season starts to 294 games. WR Percy Harvin also has played despite ongoing problems with migraine headaches. The imminent return of deep threat Sidney Rice (hip) should help the offense, but it will probably be too late to make a difference in the playoff race.

New England: Patriots head coach Bill Belichick deserves credit for never bellyaching about the effect injuries have on his squad and keeping high expectations for backups who enter the starting lineup. The Patriots (7-2) have fared so well it’s easy to forget the loss of starters and key players like DE Ty Warren, CB Leigh Bodden, RB Kevin Faulk and T Nick Kaczur. QB Tom Brady looks much sharper in his second season removed from a serious knee injury. WR Wes Welker is still regaining his form after tearing two ligaments last December.

New Orleans: The Saints were hit hard at running back with Reggie Bush (fibula) and Pierre Thomas (ankle) both missing all of October. Bush should return Sunday against Seattle; Thomas needs more recovery time. After starting the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after knee surgery, big-play free safety Darren Sharper has bolstered an injury-riddled secondary since his October debut.

Philadelphia: QB Michael Vick’s initial emergence in a backup role was one of the few positives Philadelphia could take out of a season-opening loss that also resulted in C Jamaal Jackson (biceps) and FB Leonard Weaver (knee) landing on injured reserve. Having recovered from a rib injury that sidelined him for three starts, Vick led a much healthier Eagles squad with a record-setting performance in Monday night’s 59-28 rout of Washington.

Seattle: Injuries have forced Seattle to start six different offensive-line combinations in nine games. The Seahawks hope rookie LT Russell Okung can return Sunday from repeated ankle sprains. Already forced to miss one game because of a concussion, QB Matt Hasselbeck now has to play with two cracked bones in his left wrist after getting hurt in Sunday’s win over Arizona.

Tennessee: As first reported by NFL insider Jay Glazer, QB Vince Young did his team wrong when skipping rehabilitation sessions on his injured ankle during Tennessee’s bye week. Young reportedly returned to Texas for the opening of his new steakhouse. The Titans, though, have no choice but to play Young with Kerry Collins sidelined for two weeks after injuring his calf Sunday against Miami. WR Kenny Britt’s serious hamstring pull prompted Tennessee to gamble with a waiver-wire claim on Randy Moss. The loss of promising rookie DE Derrick Morgan to a season-ending knee injury was disappointing.

Washington: Injuries to RBs Ryan Torain (hamstring) and Clinton Portis (groin) are crippling the Redskins’ ground attack. It’s harder to quantify how much QB Donovan McNabb’s groin/hamstring issues have contributed to his slipping performance.

Intensive care

Baltimore: If the Ravens suffer one more loss at cornerback, GM Ozzie Newsome may consider trying to lure Deion Sanders back out of retirement. Even the return of star safety Ed Reed from the PUP list wasn’t enough to keep Baltimore’s secondary from being shredded in last Thursday’s loss to Atlanta. Jared Gaither’s absence at right tackle has hurt the running game.

Green Bay: The Packers (6-3) have thrived despite the loss of key players to season-ending injuries at four different positions — running back Ryan Grant, tight end Jermichael Finley, right tackle Mark Tauscher and linebackers Nick Barnett and Brady Poppinga. Green Bay, though, doesn’t have the depth to weather many more losses. The Packers may eventually regret waiving CB Al Harris (knee) rather than activating him from the physically unable to perform list. Harris looked sharp in his Miami Dolphins debut Sunday against Tennessee.

Miami: The Dolphins are down to third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen after Chad Pennington (shoulder) and Chad Henne (knee) were knocked out of Sunday’s win over Tennessee. Miami is optimistic Henne can return later this season. Head coach Tony Sparano told last week that he was worried about the team’s run defense heading down the stretch. The Dolphins are thin along the defensive line.

NY Giants: An already depleted wide receiver group was further weakened with injuries suffered in the past week by Steve Smith (pectoral muscle) and Ramses Barden (ankle). Recently signed free-agent castoffs Derek Hagan and Duke Calhoun are now New York’s top options as a third receiver behind starters Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks. OLB Mathias Kiwanuka could be missed even more if the Giants lose another pass rusher.

St. Louis: Carnage at wide receiver prompted St. Louis to strongly consider claiming Randy Moss off waivers. To their credit, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson have proven capable fill-ins for Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton, but any more losses could detail the Rams’ surprising playoff push.

On life support

Carolina: The Panthers aren’t just the NFL’s youngest team. They’re also among the most battered. The Panthers will be forced to give QB Tony Pike his first career start Sunday against, gulp, Baltimore with fellow rookie Jimmy Clausen recovering from a concussion and Matt Moore (shoulder) already on injured reserve. The absence of LB Thomas Davis, RT Jeff Otah and RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have Carolina headed for the first overall pick in next April’s draft.

Detroit: The Lions have placed 15 players on injured reserve since the start of training camp. QB Matt Stafford could soon be joining them. Stafford’s recurring shoulder injuries should be making the Lions sweat about whether he can be counted on as their franchise quarterback.

Indianapolis: A relatively anonymous roster outside of QB Peyton Manning has become even more unrecognizable with an NFL-high 20 players sent to the IR list since the preseason. That doesn’t include Bob Sanders, who may not play again this year after tearing his biceps in the season-opener. It would be understandable if Manning didn’t even know the names of the players he was throwing to lately. The Colts (6-3) have managed to take the AFC South lead, but it’s hard to imagine a second straight Super Bowl appearance with so many players sidelined.

Pittsburgh: QB Ben Roethlisberger should feel blessed to possess such ample escape skills in the pocket. He needs them. The Steelers are battered across their offensive line, with LT Max Starks (neck) the latest casualty. As proven in Sunday night’s New England victory, Pittsburgh’s blocking problems may be the only thing keeping the Steelers from a Super Bowl run.

San Diego: You know a team is cursed when forced to use five different long snappers. Newly signed safety Patrick Watkins will become the 67th different player used by the Chargers on Monday night against Denver. Even with San Diego’s 4-5 record, the fact Philip Rivers is on pace to break Dan Marino’s single-season passing record despite throwing largely to backups and promoted practice-squad players for the past month makes him a viable NFL Most Valuable Player candidate. A mending group of wide receivers and tight ends will be bolstered by Monday night’s return of standout Vincent Jackson from a contract dispute.

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