During the preseason, it's easier for teams to mislead media and fans. There are no official practice participation and injury reports. Many of the injuries in question didn't happen during a game, where video replays can be very helpful in determining how concerned we should be about a player.
But the regular season is different. John Fox and Marvin Lewis and Bill Belchick can protect their hand, but only so much. Player availability during practice and games will quickly become a known commodity. By the end of the week, we'll know a lot more about where these players stand.
This is the fourth season I've written this column. There's more injury information available every season. Competition on Twitter among Adam Schefter, Ian Rapoport, Jay Glazer, and many other media members has drastically improved the detail in the news we get. Reporters know to ask about specifics on imaging studies and can press coaches on recovery timetables. There are multiple HD angles during television replays and they're much easier to find on NFL.com and GameRewind than ever before. People are tweeting Vine images almost immediately after most major injuries.
All of these are a huge help and will factor prominently in this feature this season. I'll have moving images of injuries when they clearly show a mechanism of injury and will regularly update with news from press conferences and Twitter reports.
More on my process next week. Let's get caught up on the long list of concerns heading into the regular season.
arian foster | core abdominal surgery / groin strain | week-to-week
Late Saturday night, Aaron Wilson again reported Foster was on pace to return sometime in September.
Sources emphasize Arian Foster rehab from groin surgery progressing well, hope is he's back late September, early October at latest— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) September 5, 2015
Since hearing the details of Foster's surgery -- a core abdominal muscle repair and visual inspection but no repair of a groin muscle tear -- from sources around Footballguys and seeing confirmation of the same from Will Carroll shortly after the procedure, I've felt the Week 2 - Week 4 window as the most likely return target.
We're also hearing that Foster has started the final stages of rehab and has moved from the anti-gravity treadmill to running on the side. It's a good sign Foster's recovery has progressed smoothly so far, but the next two weeks are the most critical period. Foster's most common injury has been a soft tissue strain in the early stages of conditioning, whether it be OTAs, mini-camp, the first days of training camp, or the first few days after being cleared to run after his previous injury.
And that's where we are now.
Foster cannot be trusted to play effectively at anything near a full workload until he's practicing consecutively. Hopefully, we see two weeks of regular workouts before he returns. It's possible the clock starts this week on Foster, but we'll know more by Wednesday.
What will we get from Foster when he returns?
Last season, Foster suffered a hamstring strain during OTAs and missed most of training camp. He returned in Week 1, racked up 59 touches in two games for 170 yards and averaged 4.38 yards per carry. He aggravated his hamstring strain in Week 2 and missed Week 3 and was limited to passing down duty in Week 4 (seven catches for 55 yards, eight carries for six yards).
Upon returning to full form in Week 5, Foster ripped off 581 total yards over the next four games and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. He averaged 24 touches per week. He was adding to those totals in Week 9 before leaving with a groin strain. He would miss the next three weeks.
Upon returning to the active roster in Week 13, Foster went on another tear. Averaging 26 touches a game, Foster posted 489 total yards and averaged 4.27 yards per carry.
It's a push-pull with Foster. He's a known high risk for soft tissue injuries. When he takes enough time to rehab, he's been immediately effective. His workload also immediately puts him at risk of another soft tissue injury. It's impossible to say when that next strain is coming, if at all.
alshon jeffery | calf strain | day-to-day
The Bears have insisted Jeffery was day-to-day since August 14th. He spent three days immobilized in a walking boot -- a clear sign he had more than a low grade calf strain -- and hasn't practiced in over three weeks. Jeffery doesn't need to build chemistry with Jay Cutler and the Bears' wide receiver depth chart is thin, so it's not surprising to see them return Jeffery to practice slowly.
But Jeffery hasn't practiced at all. And calf injuries are easy to aggravate in the early stages of re-conditioning. If I didn't see Jeffery play through a limiting hamstring strain last year, I'd have listed him week-to-week. I'm still worried he'll need more than one week of reconditioning to be ready for game action.
Tuesday and Wednesday are crucial for Jeffery's Week 1 availability. If he's not practicing, consider him doubtful for Week 1 and start worrying this is a 4-8 week injury that could linger well into the first month of the regular season. If Jeffery, even if limited, can practice consecutively early this week, he's likely to play. With luck, he'll not aggravate the strain in the next week or two.
randall cobb | AC sprain | day-to-day
Cobb has a low grade AC sprain. After refusing to say he'd be able to play in Week 1 the day after his injury, Cobb has since been telling everyone he'll be good to go. AC sprains are painful and can be aggravated easily, but most players return within 1-2 weeks. Cobb will be right at the two week recovery mark for Week 1. Even though the Green Bay medical staff leans conservative when clearing players to return, expect to see Cobb practicing by late week and active on game day.
lesean mccoy | hamstring strain | day-to-day
As I detailed here, McCoy likely has a mid-grade hamstring strain near where the tendon inserts into the pelvis. Strains near tendons, especially high strains, are difficult to rehab quickly. Though McCoy may play this week, he has yet to fully recondition and it's very unlikely he'll be able to effectively handle a full workload. Expect the Bills to ease him back this week -- if he's active at all.
todd gurley | torn acl | week-to-week
tre mason | hamstring strain | day-to-day
The Rams are being very cautious with Gurley, who had reportedly been well ahead of schedule in his rehab this spring. There's been no report of a setback in his recovery and he has now been cleared for contact. But Gurley won't be active this week and a report this weekend speculates the earliest he'll be given a full workload is midseason. Jeff Fisher can be difficult to read on injuries, but I believe Gurley's slow return during camp is just caution. I think Gurley is a prominent enough talent that we'd have heard rumblings of concern were it more than that. Hopefully, Gurley will continue to increase his practice participation over the next two weeks and be on the active gameday roster soon.
Mason continues to be limited by a hamstring strain he aggravated in camp. The Rams are calling him day-to-day but you should confirm his midweek practice participation carefully before expecting him to be full strength in Week 1.
mike evans | hamstring strain | day-to-day
Evans says he'll be ready to play this week. I'd like to see him practice early in the week and avoid an aggravation, but there are no reports of concern out there right now.
c.j. spiller | knee surgery | day-to-day
Spiller has had three weeks to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery. The Saints have not provided specifics on the knee injury, but the timetable for return is most consistent with a removal of a loose fragment of meniscus, treatment of bone spur, or other minor procedure. Every major and local media report expects him to be available in Week 1. Watch for Spiller's early week practice participation before counting on him this week.
emmanuel sanders | hamstring strain | day-to-day
After aggravating a hamstring strain in early August, Sanders was shut down for the rest of the preseason. Aggravated muscle strains are often worse than the initial injury, but Sanders' absence looks to be another case of abundant caution from a team with a veteran skill position player. Cecil Lammey reported Sanders moved well in a pregame warmup last week and the Broncos have now named him the primary punt returner. Barring a surprise this week, he should be at full strength for Week 1.
julian edelman | ankle | day-to-day
Edelman joked about his ankle injury two weeks ago, saying "I'm ten seconds better than the last ten seconds, so we're good." He also returned to positional drills before camp ended and was in uniform for the final preseason game. The Patriots often hold players out of practice and preseason games with any concern, so it's not necessarily a red flag Edelman didn't participate much in camp. We'll find out this week how ready Edelman is to play. Expect to see him limited in practice and continuing to work on conditioning. Check back Wednesday for more details after the practice participation report and media interviews.
victor cruz | calf strain | week-to-week
Cruz suffered a calf strain shortly after being cleared to join team drills early in the preseason. The Giants tried to pass it off as hydration related and inflammation, but Cruz has a muscle strain. The lost reconditioning time may not hurt Cruz much, but he'll need to avoid an aggravation. He'll still need to prove he can be effective after a difficult to recover from patellar tendon tear.
joique bell | knee / achilles surgery | day-to-day
I think Bell had microfracture surgery in January. There are few knee procedures where the target date for clearance to run is six months from surgery. Bell was finally activated from the PUP list last week and deemed ready for individual and team drills. The Lions clearly plan to use Bell if he's ready and immediately gave him reps with the first team. If Bell can hold up through the conditioning period and has no lingering pain, stiffness, or swelling in the knee, he could be back to 10-15+ touches soon. But I wouldn't count on that happening in Week 1.
zach ertz | core abdominal surgery | week-to-week
Ertz had sports hernia surgery in mid-August. He was seeing running well last week, three weeks into his rehab. Recovery estimates from sports hernia surgery usually fall in the 3-8 week range, with 4-6 weeks the common sweet spot for return. Ertz will be at four weeks for Week 1 and his conditioning period has already started so there's a chance he'll be active this week. It's doubtful he'd see his pre-injury expected workload, however. Expect him to work back to full strength by Week 2 or 3.
devante parker | metatarsal fracture | day-to-day
Parker returned to the field last week and took nine snaps in the final preseason game. He's nearly three months from surgery to revise the screw in his foot. Though estimates initially pegged his return at 8-12 weeks, the Dolphins were smart to rehab Parker with the intent to bring him back at the latter stages of expectation. Parker should continue to see his participation increase during the first month of the season. Recovery from this procedure is generally good -- Julio Jones is one of many players to return effectively in recent seasons -- and Parker can be expected to return to form early this season.
breshad perriman | pcl sprain | week-to-week
This situation continues to be confusing to track. John Harbaugh's description of Perriman's condition changed multiple times before confirmation of a sprained PCL. It's an injury that often will not have a smooth recovery and straightforward timetable to return. Early last week, local media reports suggested Perriman was unlikely to return until October. Later in the week, Harbaugh said Perriman had a chance to play this week. Perriman was also seen running comfortably during warmups before the final preseason game. You can ignore these reports and focus on Perriman's practice participation and media availability. When you see Perriman practicing on consecutive days, limited or full, and cleared to speak with the media, you can be confident he's nearing a return to the active roster on gameday. Until then, consider him week-to-week.
around the training table
Julius Thomas had surgery to repair a tendon in his finger last week and is expected to miss a minimum of 3-4 weeks. I'll update his status after he's cleared to return to practice. Michael Floyd has had a month to recover from an open dislocation of fingers early in camp. He'll likely still be in a splint this week. If his finger joints are stable and he's able to catch passes with any required splinting/padding, he should be available in Week 1.
There are rumblings Geno Smith could beat his initial return to play estimate after surgery to fix a broken jaw. Smith's surgery was not as extensive as it could have been, which puts six weeks in play. The Jets may choose to be more aggressive if Ryan Fitzpatrick starts slowly.
DeSean Jackson (AC sprain) and Roddy White (elbow) are expected to be available in Week 1. Johnny Manziel (elbow tendinitis) should also be ready to play this week. Duke Johnson Jr is continuing to advance through the concussion protocol and his Wednesday practice participation will help determine how close he is to gaining clearance for contact. There are lots of rumors suggesting Karlos Williams had surgery to correct testicular torsion. If accurate, he should return without concern soon.
Brandon Lafell (foot), Jay Ajayi (rib fracture), and David Cobb (calf strain) will not be available until midseason. Lafell's injury is still unknown and we may not know more until it's nearly time for him to come off the reserve-PUP list. Ajayi and Cobb cannot return to game action until Week 10. Much can happen between now and then, but while neither injury is a season-threatening condition it's difficult to see either rookie running back contribute much in 2015. The Buccaneers put rookie receiver Kenny Bell on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.
I'll be updating this feature throughout the day during the regular season. Footballguys Insiders will get a full update with additional fantasy perspectives on Wednesday, with analysis of the week's game-time decisions early Sunday morning. Follow me on Twitter @JeneBramel for breaking injury news and analysis throughout the week.
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