Russian hackers are everywhere, with the latest example being a leak of several Olympic athletes’ records. The leaks were hardly scandalous, with information about therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) that include non-scandalous substances such as Ritalin and corticosteroids, all properly cleared and monitored. No American pro athletes are at risk here since no American league uses WADA or it’s agencies for testing, including the NFL. (The exception would be pro athletes who participated in the Olympics, such as NBA players.)
However, TUEs are a part of all drug testing programs. There are bound to be NFL players with ADHD prescriptions, opiate painkiller, and things as simple as Viagra or Propecia, which are banned substances. The NFL has never released any data on their TUEs, but we have to wonder if there’s any testosterone TUEs, as we’ve seen in the UFC, and how widespread the need for painkiller TUEs might be. It’s very unlikely the NFL will release even anonymized data and unlike others, I’m not rooting for the hackers to do more work.
There’s plenty of injuries around the league, so let’s get to it:
New York Jets at Buffalo
The big question in Thursday night’s game is going to be the effectiveness of Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins’ foot is not 100 percent, but whether the Bills medical staff can maintain the foot while the coaching staff adjusts to what he can do and what irritates the foot will determine how well he plays. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis got torched in Week 1, but he’ll know from film which way Watkins wants to go. Look for Watkins to make the same kind of adjustments, moving to more quick routes early and trying to get free with minimal cuts.
Rob Gronkowski, New England (bruised hamstring)
At it’s heart, this is a medical column. I talk about sports injuries and how sports medicine and sports science deal with issues. Gronkowski not playing last week was not a medical decision; it was a coaching decision. Go with the cliche if you want and say Gronkowski could have played if this was a playoff game, but coach Bill Belichick doesn’t go with cliches. Go with the “long look” and say Gronkowski’s health is more key to January than September. When every game counts, especially with quarterback Tom Brady out, that’s a tough one to buy.
I won’t pretend to know why they elected to hold him back. I know it came early. Watch for the word “strain” in any of the Patriots’ discussion of Gronkowski, because you won’t hear it. His hamstring issue is definitely a contusion — a bruise — and not a strain. Gronkowski is back at practice, but not fully, so this likely will be decided once again by the coaches, not his medical status. I’d imagine we’ll get an early read again, but there’s no flight to check this week.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles (rest)
When Todd Gurley sat out of Wednesday’s practice, many thought there was an injury. The Rams say that it’s just a planned rest. Gurley was dead-stopped, as was the whole of the Rams offense, in Week 1, so this had to have been planned and may end up a regular feature for Gurley. He’s shown no issue with his repaired knee during his NFL career, so I don’t think that’s what’s driving this. For all of coach Jeff Fisher’s preseason talk about not settling, I’m not sure that the team is going to sacrifice their offensive future — Gurley and Jared Goff — in a season where the team looks overmatched.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City (post-surgical knee)
Charles is now officially on the Todd Gurley plan. Given how well he came back from his first ACL reconstruction, this is a bit of a surprise. There were no issues then, at least not in terms of timing or effectiveness, so I have to wonder if they saw something then (or now) that led to this slowdown. I get that Charles isn’t where they want him to be and I laud the Chiefs for being open about it rather than the typical “will he play or won’t he” games. Charles is doing more at practice, but I think we’re looking at Week 4 or 5 for his game return and even then, we could see a split of the touches. Some of that will depend on if Spencer Ware can stay healthy. He came out of Week 1 very banged up. The most notable issue is a mildly sprained toe, so watch his acceleration.
Chris Ivory, Jacksonville (calf strain/unknown)
The Jaguars have still offered no information on what Ivory is dealing with. I speculated about exertional compartment syndrome, which matches up with the available information, but there’s a near-infinite list of things it could be, from infections to kidney stones to cancer. What we know is that he’s out of practice so far this week and there’s no indication he’ll be ready to play in Week 2. Without any information, there’s not much to go on beyond this. For now, T.J. Yeldon will get the full workload, but given Denard Robinson’s abilities, they may have to consider other options if Ivory is out for an extended period.
Great first quarter of 2016 for Packers LB Joe Thomas (48). An INT and what he did to Denard Robinson made me gasp pic.twitter.com/4xaV5NtG4f
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) September 13, 2016
Russell Wilson, Seattle (high ankle sprain)
Wilson came out of last week with a high ankle sprain. His late-game issues all go back to not having the mobility that makes him so tough to defend. Without it, he’s ordinary. Wilson is practicing with the ankle braced — as well as his healthy ankle. Some think that’s to stop targeting, but really its about comfort and balance. Try wearing one sock and you’ll understand. Wilson was adjusting to the brace in practice, so he’s not fully comfortable. One thing to watch for is whether he’s spinning more. It’s easier than a hard cut on his injured ankle, but makes him lose his vision on the downfield receiver.
Breshad Perriman, Baltimore (strained calf)
Perriman’s best skill is his speed, but he’s been so seldom healthy that few have seen it. Another leg injury, this time a minor calf strain, is holding him back and will make him a game-time decision. The Ravens might need to get Perriman’s gait checked out the way the Green Bay Packers did with Jordy Nelson. If you’re unfamiliar with this, check the video below. For Permian this week, it comes down to whether the medical staff can manage the calf strain and get him back out there without risking further damage. That’s tough, so I wouldn’t expect Perriman to be as involved in the offense as normal.
Tony Romo, Dallas (fractured back)
We’re three weeks into a six or eight week process, depending on who you listen to, when it comes to Romo’s fractured vertebra. Sources tell me that X-rays taken this week show the process is going normally, so when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says Romo’s recovery is “on track,” it matches up. We should see more in next week’s practices, with Romo getting more involved and more physical, though Dak Prescott’s play is definitely going to factor in here. The better Prescott plays, the more time they’ll give Romo to heal. It’s not the QB controversy people will make it out to be, but simply what a backup is supposed to do: play well enough to not have to rush the starter back.
Bumps & Bruises:
Miami running back Arian Foster popped up as a surprise absence Wednesday. A source tells me this is part of the plan to keep him healthy. Good luck with that … Behind the scenes, the Atlanta Falcons are worried about the turf more than they’re really worried about Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Both came out of Week 1 with mild ankle sprains, but they were far from the only ones complaining about the field condition … Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will play through his hip issue, which is thought to be a small labrum tear. This is something that can get worse, or not, so Thomas is a tough read, but so talented … Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin took a big hit to the head but returned. Fact is, he passed the concussion screening and was cleared to return. Players like this never enter the concussion protocol, so don’t be confused. It’s good to see players tested and if more are tested, more will be cleared like Maclin was … Arizona Cardinals guard Evan Mathis has a mid foot sprain, but it’s not a Lisfranc. All Lisfrancs are mid-foot sprains, but not all mid-foot sprains are Lisfranc. Got that logic? Mathis will have a tough time getting a solid base until the sprain heals up, which is bad for his position. Look for him to miss time … While Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson says tight end Zach Ertz hasn’t officially been ruled out, his displaced rib is likely to keep him off the field. Look for Brent Celek to get the start and the targets.