Elite athletes are competitive to a fault. NFL players are no exception. Give them a timetable to return from injury and you'll often hear them take the most optimistic side of the range and say they'll shave days to weeks off the estimate. They don't want to be seen as soft. They don't want to give away any opportunity to play, even if they recognize it's in their best interest to rest for a week. Many know if they aren't on the field, someone else may perform well enough to take their job.
I've been following NFL injuries for a few years now. It's exceedingly rare that I'll think, "Nah, the timetable reported for this injury is way too long." Recovery estimates are being reported more accurately than ever, but it's still much more likely to see a player need more time than originally estimated to return than not.
I admire the toughness of professional athletes. I'm not sure how some of them get out of bed the day after a game. I'm not sure how many of them get their body ready to play in time for the following Sunday. And Arian Foster is absolutely correct that Thursday games are brutal things.
Why bring this up?
I've taken some heat from fans this year who seem to think I'm questioning the toughness of a player when I suggest they won't be able to recover as quickly as they hope. Lack of physical toughness or mental fortitude has nothing to do with whether Teddy Bridgewater can rehab a high ankle sprain in 3-4 days. It had nothing to do with my argument that Ben Tate's optimistic comments in the days after his knee sprain weren't as promising as they read.
Alshon Jeffery wasn't necessarily tougher than other wide receivers when he fought through a hamstring injury to play on Monday night a few weeks back. (In fact, I still think he dodged the same fusillade of bullets that have caught Eric Decker, Cecil Shorts and many others who risked aggravation and played with a muscle strain that wasn't close to 100%.)
Even elite athletes are subject to the limitations of the human body's healing powers and the modalities avaiable to their team's medical staff.
Keep that in mind when I argue Carson Palmer is still a longshot to play this week. Or when I question how soon A.J. Green may be able to return from his latest aggravation of a sprained toe. Or my pessimism should the media stick to a 2-3 week return expectation for Montee Ball.
I'm not bagging on your favorite team's player or your fantasy team's most critical player. I hope every player beats the estimate given. And does so because they're fully healthy.
andre johnson | ANKLE | QUESTIONABLE
Johnson didn't practice all week. That's not surprising, though. In a normal week, Johnson wouldn't have practiced until the Texans' Thursday session. All expectations are Johnson will be active Thursday night and play. How effective he'll be is an open question and a very difficult one to answer.
Fantasy expectation: Johnson doesn't have a very high ceiling, but that has as much to do with his middling WR1 target expectation (7-9 targets in four of five games this year) as his injury concern. Call him a high floor WR3 with a little upside Thursday night.
As with most weeks this year, there are many players not practicing on Wednesday who are likely to play on Sunday. Most notably, there's little reason to worry over Julio Jones (ankle), Vincent Jackson (rib), Greg Olsen (ankle) or Cordarrelle Patterson (hip) unless they aren't back to a limited practice by Friday.
Adam Schefter reported Johnson's injury as a high ankle sprain on Wednesday. While you shouldn't buy into the knee-jerk narrative that any and all high ankle sprains need 3-4 weeks of rest to recover, it's going to be tough for Johnson to return to full form for some time. He'll be re-evaluated next week and his practice participation leading up to Week 7 will be critical. If he's not ready to practice by the end of next week, the Lions' Week 9 bye may start to play into his recovery.
Onto this week's injury concerns...
a.j. green | toe | limited
Green was carted off the field during the warmup portion of Wednesday's practice and had an MRI of his toe. It's not yet known whether Green suffered an aggravation or just grew frustrated with the chronic nature of his condition. But Green was moving well on his foot in Week 5 and it's unlikely he'd need an MRI if there wasn't concern for worse injury.
It's possible Green will have a clean MRI, little pain and swelling on Thursday, return to practice and play this week. But it's not likely. With luck, this isn't a significant aggravation which will cost Green multiple weeks of recovery time. I doubt Green plays this week, but we'll know more on Thursday. Hopefully, the update will include more specifics than the nebulous "similar to turf toe" report we've had so far.
carson palmer | shoulder | limited
drew stanton | concussion | limited
Call me skeptical, but I won't believe that Palmer is ready to return until he throws the ball at distance and with accuracy on consecutive days without any recurrent pain or weakness. Palmer threw 40-50 passes on Wednesday, but images of Arizona's practice suggest the workout was carefully controlled. And multiple beat writers said Palmer would be back in Denver to get treatment from a nerve specialist on Friday. I don't think that's promising for Palmer's Week 6 availability.
However, if Stanton isn't ready to return from a concussion, Arizona may be less likely to err on the side of caution with Palmer and let him play if he's close.
Tomorrow is a huge day for Palmer. As of now, I think it's 70-30 Palmer will sit this week.
knowshon moreno | elbow | limited
Moreno is quirky. At least, that's the term Miami beat writers are using after seeing Moreno return to practice on Tuesday and put on full pads and elbow brace in a limited Wednesday practice a few days after telling them he may not be ready to return for another month. The padded Wednesday practice will be very informative, as the medical staff watches Moreno's comfort level and the coaches make sure he can do everything he needs to do in a brace. For now, it's looking very good for Moreno's return this week.
keenan allen | quad | limited
This may be our first likely cascade injury -- an injury to a different part of the body which occurs as the body overcompensates for another injury -- to a skill position player in 2014. You may be glad to see quad rather than groin as the listed injury here, but, while an aggravation wouldn't be a good sign, a second muscle strain isn't either. Allen has already played effectively through one low grade muscle strain. With luck, we'll see the same this week.
reggie bush | ankle | dnp
joique bell | concussion | full
Bush told reporters earlier this week he planned to prepare "like I'm going to play Sunday." The DNP on Wednesday isn't a great start, but Bush has the veteran luxury of not needing a full week of practice to make the Sunday active roster. I won't write him off until Friday.
Bell's full practice doesn't mean he's been cleared to play in a game yet. Team doctors may clear a player for a full padded practice before sending them to the independent neurologist for clearance for game action. Often times, even for players who've been in the protocol for more than seven days and may be ready sooner, that visit doesn't happen until Friday. It's a great sign Bell has returned to practice, but wait until Friday before considering him a lock to return.
eric decker | hamstring | limited
Decker took a much needed week off last week and was cleared for a limited Wednesday practice. If he has no tightness or pain in his hamstring on Thursday, we'll likely see him increase his practice participation and play. If he's not practicing on Thursday, it's time to brace for a multi-week absence.
jordan reed | hamstring | limited
Thursday is the key day for Reed this week. If he's back to a limited session -- or, even better, a full practice -- on Thursday, he's shown his hamstring can respond to consecutive practices and he'll be very nearly outside the critical 7-10 day window in which players are most likely to aggravate a muscle strain or suffer a cascade injury.
marvin jones | knee | dnp
There's not much optimism in the local media on Jones right now. The ankle injury last week is still being referred to as a "tweak" but Jones has yet to sniff the practice field since it occurred two weeks ago. A limited practice tomorrow would be a very positive sign, but it's not to be expected.
Follow on Twitter @JeneBramel for breaking injury news, updates and analysis. Check back Sunday morning for my expectations on all of this week's game-time injury decisions.