If monitoring a multitude of injuries wasn't already complicated enough, we have a scheduling logjam that makes it all the more difficult this week. There are six teams coming out of Week 8 byes, and another six teams going into Week 9 byes. Bye weeks are often the cloak of invisibility when it comes to player injuries, as teams are not required to report any specifics such as practice participation or rehab progress. Also, players are required to have at least four consecutive days off, so there's often a limit to what beat-reporters can glean from visiting the facility. Because of this, bye weeks tend to create a lot of injury situations where the public has, at best, incomplete information. Right now, we have the Ravens, Rams, Dolphins, Giants, Steelers, and 49ers coming out of Week 8 byes, and the Cardinals, Bears, Bengals, Texans, Patriots, and Washington going into Week 9 byes. Altogether, that's 12 teams (more than a third of the league) that might have incomplete or clouded injury situations. Obviously, this makes for a tricky week for navigating the injury report, but I'll do what I can to clear things up.
Ben Roethlisberger, meniscus trim
Ben Roethlisberger has been pretty clear all along that his goal was to play in Week 9 after the Steelers returned from their bye. While plenty of people within the organization have been slow to embrace that notion publicly, it's finally gaining some traction now, with Mike Tomlin saying on Tuesday that it's possible Roethlisberger plays this week. If Roethlisberger can return this week, he will be 2 weeks and 6 days removed from his knee scope procedure. While that's certainly fast, it's not unprecedented, and certainly not surprising given Roethlisberger's penchant for short rehabs. Roethlisberger was able to put in a limited practice on Wednesday, and I'd speculate that two more limited practices this week would signal that he's ready to return. I'd also expect that he would be a step or two slower for a few games, but that's not a huge issue with Roethlisberger.
Alex Smith, concussion and/or ear laceration
Depending on who you believe, Alex Smith either suffered one concussion, two concussion, a lacerated ear, or maybe no injuries at all in Sunday's game. The last few seasons, it's been very popular to criticize teams for their seeming inability to see the symptoms of a possible concussion, namely disorientation, that we as viewers see on our televisions at home. I've been vocal about it myself, blasting team coaches, medical staffs, and officials for missing obvious concussion symptoms on players like Case Keenum, Julian Edelman, Ben Roethlisberger, and Cam Newton. Having said all that, I will say that, from my point of view, I don't view the Chiefs handling of Alex Smith as being irresponsible, so I'm a little surprised by the heat I've seen them taking on social media.
ESPN's Adam Teicher had a full explanation from Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder. When Alex Smith's head hit the turf in the first quarter, he was taken to the sideline, where he passed a short evaluation. The staff also needed to treat a laceration on Smith's ear, and he was taken to the locker room. Once in the locker room, his ear was treated, and he was evaluated further for a concussion. He passed all tests, and was allowed back into that game.
The fact that he was removed from the field and taken to the locker room is already leaps and bounds more cautious than some teams have been with possible concussions, even if it was more due to treating his ear injury. Later in the game, Smith took another ugly hit and appeared woozy. He was then removed from the game completely.
The Chiefs later said that they do not believe Smith suffered a concussion in either instance, but they nonetheless put him in the concussion protocol and he has already been ruled out for Week 9. These do not seem to me like the actions of a reckless medical staff. Let's remember that this is the same medical staff that eased Jamaal Charles along this season, and made the swift and responsible decision to send him to injured reserve when things didn't seem right. The only way I could see this being the result of bad medical decisions is if it turns out that Smith did indeed have a concussion in the first quarter, and that the evaluations weren't diligent enough to catch it. It's important to note, that's simply one possible scenario, and one that I have no reason to believe based on the larger picture. With all the heat that the Chiefs organization is taking on this, it would actually be easier for them if Alex Smith did have a concussion, so perhaps we should give them the benefit of the doubt when they state that he did not.
Of course, all this begs the question of how exactly Alex Smith is injured. At this point, given the symptoms of disorientation, one would almost rather that it was a concussion, as the alternatives aren't great. The Chiefs have mentioned that it might be a balance issue related to the ear injury, but I can't speak to the validity of that. Alex Smith does have a little history with concussions, as he suffered one in 2011 and another in 2012, with the second one being used largely as an excuse to bench him for Colin Kaepernick. Smith even pointed out this history, saying that this latest injury did not feel similar to those two previous concussions. Obviously, none of this helps us figure out what path lies ahead for Alex Smith, but I seem to be one of the few that thinks the Kansas City medical and coaching staff are doing everything they can to help and protect Smith.
Cody Kessler, concussion
Browns rookie Cody Kessler is practicing in full, but I've read conflicting reports on whether or not he has fully cleared the concussion protocol yet. Either way, the full practice means that his return is likely imminent, and barring any practice setback, he should be available for Week 9. It remains to be seen whether Kessler or Josh McCown will start on Sunday, but the debate no longer revolves around health.
Tony Romo, vertabra fracture
I feel bad discussing Romo in an injury column, as his absence now has very little to do with injury. Granted, Romo needs some practice, and to ramp-up his activities a bit more, but the slow progress so far has a lot more to do with the play of Dak Prescott than the health of Tony Romo. He did not practice on Wednesday, but that's hardly a surprise given how Dallas appears to be throttling his possible return.
Spencer Ware, concussion
With the news that Kansas City placed Jamaal Charles on injured reserve this week, Spencer Ware's lofty value has risen even further, as there's little chance that his workload is significantly cut into by Charcandrick West. Unfortunately, we're left guessing as to whether Ware will be available this week against Jacksonville, as Ware suffered a concussion last week. Typically, we have little visibility of how players are progressing through the early stages of the concussion protocol, as this work is done away from reporters and teammates. I would expect that this situation will be fairly clear by Friday though. If Ware isn't back to at least limited practice late in the week then owners will need to make other plans.
Tevin Coleman, hamstring strain
Tevin Coleman sat out last week with a hamstring strain, and he has been ruled out for Thursday's game against Tampa Bay. Coleman's strain might be relatively minor, but the fact that the Falcons had a short week and play on Thursday likely made the decision an easy one. If Coleman can't return to a full practice at some point next week, I'd think that the Falcons would hold him out through their Week 11 bye.
LeSean McCoy, hamstring strain
With the Bills not playing until Monday night, it'll be late in the week before we have much clarity on LeSean McCoy's status this week. Buffalo has a Week 10 bye, so the conservative move would be to rest McCoy until Week 11, but the Bills don't seem to be making the most conservative of medical decisions this year. Buffalo's first official practice participation report won't be released until Thursday. If I had to guess, I'd expect to see a week of limited practice with another game time decision for Monday.
Devontae Booker, shoulder
After taking over C.J. Anderson's role, Devontae Booker suffered an unspecified shoulder injury last week. Although he has undergone tests, most chatter seems to suggest that the injury is minor and that he's expected to play through it. I can't speak to that, but I can tell you that he was able to put in a limited practice on Wednesday. As with many players listed each week, I'd really like to see at least one full practice this week in order to know that he'd been cleared for contact to his injured shoulder, but short of that, a limited practice is an optimistic sign this early in the week.
Jerick McKinnon, ankle
Jerick McKinnon missed last week with an ankle injury, likely a high ankle sprain, and it looks like he's in danger of missing this week as well. McKinnon was unable to practice on Wednesday, and I would expect to see Matt Asiata take up the slack this week.
Jacquizz Rodgers, foot sprain
If I had to call it today, I'd say that we're likely to see Doug Martin return to the Tampa Bay backfield before we see Jacquizz Rodgers again, and that's really saying something given Martin's rocky rehab thus far. Rodgers suffered what is being reported as a foot sprain on Sunday, and was seen in noticeable pain on the broadcast. Foot sprains are one of the injuries that always send up a red flag for me, as the, "foot sprain," designation is often the first reported diagnosis of more severe foot injuries that are later clarified as mid-foot sprains or Lisfranc injuries. Such was the case with Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, both of whom were derailed by foot sprains that were eventually diagnosed or clarified as Lisfranc injuries. At the running back position, a simple foot sprain is serious enough that I'd expect Rodgers to miss somewhere in the ballpark of 2-3 weeks. But the real concern for me here is that this snowballs into something more severe that requires an extended rehab or even surgery. It's important to note that I have no specific information that Rodgers suffered anything more substantial than a moderate foot sprain, though Dr. Jene Bramel had at least a little concern that this injury could be potentially severe. Whatever the exact injury, Rodgers has been ruled out for Week 9.
Doug Martin, hamstring strain
Doug Martin is now more than two weeks removed from his bye week hamstring strain setback, and he's been officially ruled out for the Week 9 Thursday night game. It's notable that we haven't yet heard of any progress, and Martin has not returned to practice in any capacity. Until proven otherwise, I'm always pessimistic in situations like this, and I'd say that Martin now has an uphill battle to play in Week 10. Next week's practice reports should give us more detailed information.
Carlos Hyde, shoulder
I found it amusing that Tuesday's news of Carlos Hyde wearing a non-contact jersey at practice could be read two ways. If you were already pessimistic about Hyde's recovery coming out of his bye week, this news could validate that pessimism, as he still isn't putting in a full practice with contact. If you were optimistic about Hyde's chances to play this week, you could welcome news of any practice participation, even if it was limited and non-contact (which it was). In my opinion, it was a report that offered a mirror which reflected and amplified your own preconceived hopes or fears about Hyde's status. Personally, I'm of the mind that any practice is a positive development, though we're still a long ways from knowing how that pans out this week.
James Starks, meniscus trim
This is not a surprise, but it appears James Starks will miss his third game due to a knee scope to trim a damaged meniscus. Unlike the case with Ben Roethlisberger, there seems to be no fast-track to Starks' recovery, as his return-to-play estimate was originally, "about 4 weeks." Perhaps Starks can return for Week 10, but we won't have clarity on that until next week's practice reports.
DeMarco Murray, toe
DeMarco Murray suffered a toe injury in last Thursday's game, but was able to play through it and finish the game. It was later deemed a minor, "day-to-day," injury, and it appears that designation was accurate, as he was able to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday. Owners will obviously want to keep an eye on this, but there's likely nothing to worry about here.
T.Y Hilton, hamstring strain
T.Y. Hilton suffered a hamstring injury in Week 8, and his Week 9 status might be in jeopardy, as he did not practice on Wednesday. Hilton has been a little banged up this year, and has missed a lot of previous Wednesday practices with a hip injury. So far, he's always managed to make it onto the field on Sunday, often coming up with enormous games. This early in the week, it's difficult to know how severe this latest injury is, but it might be notable that Hilton himself isn't brushing it off in interviews. All owners need to check back on both Thursday and Friday to see if Hilton is able to put in at least one limited practice. If this strain is anything more than minor, I'd expect the Colts to rest Hilton through their Week 10 bye.
Julio Jones, knee
No matter how minor or inconsequential the injury, when it happens to Julio Jones, it must be discussed here simply due to his value. Jones has played through minor ankle and calf injuries this year, and mostly remained effective while doing so. As of right now, there's no reason to believe that his latest knee injury is anything different. He was able to put in a full practice on Wednesday, and should be ready to go for a fantastic matchup against the Buccaneers on Thursday.
Odell Beckham Jr., Hip Pointer
Coming out of a bye week, Odell Beckham Jr. was still limited in practice with a hip pointer. While this is a painful injury that can be difficult to push through, there is no doubt that Beckham will play this weekend. I would be concerned about his effectiveness if this were the week after the injury, but the bye week should've offered some much-needed rest and rehab, so I think he'll be mostly his old self, tantrums and all.
Travis Benjamin, PCL sprain
Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday that the knee injury that has been limiting Travis Benjamin for the last two weeks is a grade-2 PCL sprain. Rapoport went on to say that this is an injury that should only require rest and rehab, not surgery. In fact, surgery is both rare and controversial for PCL injuries, except in the case of extensive knee injuries involving multiple ligaments. This is the same injury that sidelined Breshad Perriman his rookie year, though Perriman is a worst-case scenario, as he eventually required surgery after conservative rehab didn't help. PCL sprains can be tricky though, so even a moderate sprain could sideline Benjamin anywhere from 2-6 weeks, with the possibility for even longer. While Benjamin has played through the injury the last two games, I would expect the Chargers to proceed cautiously and put him on the shelf for at least one week to see how he feels. At this early stage, it's still unclear whether playing the last two weeks helped or hurt Benjamin. It's possible that the worst is behind him, but that remains to be seen. Unless proven otherwise, I think he's a longshot for Week 9, and I wonder if the Chargers might tentatively pencil his return in after their Week 11 bye.
Tyrell Williams, knee
With the possibility of Travis Benjamin missing a few weeks, it's worth wondering if Tyrell Williams will be healthy enough to rise to the occasion and take on a larger role. Williams battled through an undisclosed knee injury during practices last week, but ended up starting in Week 8. I would assume that he'll continue that trend this week, but it's worth checking back on him before the weekend to make sure he gets in at least a limited practice, as he was held out on Wednesday.
Randall Cobb, hamstring strain
Randall Cobb was one of the two wide receivers who were surprisingly inactive for Green Bay last week. After a week of limited practices, most expected Cobb to play. But that's not how the Green Bay medical staff rolls. They're widely known to be conservative when it comes to bringing players back from injury, and that's almost always a wise move (looking right at you, Buffalo). Given that history, I'd really like to see Cobb get in at least one full practice before saying that he'll play this week, but I'll say it anyway... I think he plays this week.
Ty Montgomery, kidney
If Cobb's absence was a surprise, than the absence of Ty Montgomery was the real shocker. After putting in limited practices due to what was only reported as an illness, it was revealed that Montgomery has a sickle-cell trait that was affecting his kidneys, leading to blood in his urine. I don't know about you, but where I come from, that's more than just an illness. Usually players under the category of, "illness," are dealing with regular mortal human stuff like colds, flu, dehydration, food poisoning, maybe even just a hangover. Virtually all players play through these minor ailments. But once we're talking about internal organs, that's a whole different kettle of fish. The difficulty now is in figuring out how a conservative medical staff will handle this. It's a given that they will err on the side of caution, and justifiably so. But was last week the cautious benching, where Montgomery could've probably played had they decided to allow it? Or will this week be the cautious benching? Or next week? Or the rest of the season? You see the pickle we're in here, and there's really nothing I can add that will clear this up. As thorough as my injury database is, the kidney injuries I have details on tend to be lacerations from trauma, not complications related to a genetic disorder. I really have no idea how this will play out, and I'm hoping that we have more details soon.
Corey Coleman, hand fracture
It was reported earlier this week that Corey Coleman had received final medical clearance and would be allowed to return to full practice this week. With that in mind, I found it a little odd that he was officially listed as a limited participant in Wednesday's practice. This is probably nothing, and Coleman will likely get in a full practice later in the week. But for me to be confident that Week 9 will mark his return from a hand fracture, I'd really like to see at least one full practice. Coleman was seen with a splint on his hand last week, but I can't find any reports that indicate whether or not that is still the case this week. If Coleman returns without a splint, I would expect him to play like the receiver he was before the injury. If he is forced to wear a splint to protect his hand, I'd have at least a little concern that he'd return with stone hands.
Steve Smith, high ankle sprain
Steve Smith suffered what was likely a high ankle sprain back in Week 5. Since then, he has missed two games, and had the Ravens Week 8 bye to rehab as well. Smith has proven himself to be someone who can often come back early and effectively through pain, so it's surprising that he wasn't able to practice on Wednesday. Smith is a true veteran and doesn't need practice reps in order to play on Sunday, so there's always a chance that this was a planned day of rest for him. Still, this is troubling, and I'd really need to see him return to at least limited practices both Thursday and Friday before I felt comfortable starting him against the Steelers this weekend.
Terrelle Pryor, hamstring strain
Terrelle Pryor was able to play last week despite missing practice with a hamstring strain. He was held out of practice again on Wednesday, so it's fair to wonder whether this is part of his expected rehab or if trying to play through the strain made it worse. As of this writing, there is no clear answer. If Pryor can return to even limited practice, I'd expect him to start this weekend. But if he misses another week of practices, perhaps the game time decision goes the other way this time, and the Browns choose to rest him.
Marvin Jones, foot
Marvin Jones was limited in Wednesday's practice with a foot injury. There's no cause for alarm here, but this is one to keep an eye on to make sure it doesn't develop into something.
Jacob Tamme, shoulder
Jacob Tamme was ruled out for Week 9 early in the week, leaving no doubt that his undisclosed shoulder injury is something more than a minor strain or bruise. Most likely, Tamme is dealing with a mid-grade AC sprain, though that hasn't been confirmed. Luckily, we haven't heard anything about MRI's (though he's likely had one), further tests, or second opinions, so this doesn't appear to be a more severe injury such as a labrum issue. If indeed Tamme has a moderate AC sprain, it could restrict both his ability to catch and his ability to block, so I would expect the team to take a conservative approach in returning him to play. With this in mind, it's notable that the Falcons have a Week 11 bye. If Tamme is still not at full health when the Falcons practice next week, they're likely to hold him out until Week 12.
Ladarius Green, ankle surgery and/or concussions
We still don't know whether it was ankle surgery or ongoing concussion symptoms (which Green denies) that landed Ladarius Green on the physically unable to perform list this season, but we do know he's nearing a possible return. He has returned to Steelers practice this week, and has been sharing the first-team reps with Jesse James. Before running to the waiver wire to scoop him up though, it's important to note that the Steelers have yet to activate him and move him to their 53-man roster. They have until November 15th to do so, though Mike Tomlin has said that Green could be activated as soon as this week.
Dwayne Allen, high ankle sprain
Dwayne Allen was able to return to a limited practice on Wednesday, which is a promising sign as he continues to recover from a high ankle sprain that has sidelined him for the last two games. Before we pencil Allen in as the likely starter, however, I think it's important to note that the Colts have a Week 10 bye, and they might decide that an early return isn't worth the risk of re-injury. If Allen can get in a full practice this week, I would tend to believe that he'll start this weekend against the Packers.
Julius Thomas, ankle
I don't have enough information yet to say whether Julius Thomas is in any danger of missing Week 9, but he didn't practice on Wednesday due to an unspecified ankle injury. Check back on Thursday or Friday to see if he's returned to practice.
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