It’s pretty amazing what doctors can do these days, but there’s more and more evidence that the bigger, stronger, faster of the NFL are starting to reach the limits of the human body. The forces are breaking apart knees, feet and bones at higher-than-average paces, but we’re also seeing evidence that we’re getting beyond that. For the third time in the last two years, a player has been diagnosed with a lacerated kidney. Jordan Poyer was placed on IR with the injury, following Keenan Allen and Andrew Luck last year.
All three will be fine, but injuries to internal organs such as the kidney, spleen or liver can have grave consequences. Athletic trainers and doctors have long feared spinal injuries as the one thing they didn’t want to see on the field, but one I spoke with this week is growing more concerned that we’ll see someone with internal bleeding go into crisis on the sidelines. The only answer is better pads, which means the NFL better hope someone’s building something or that they need to more quickly adopt the solutions that are out there. There’s plenty of other issues around the league, so let’s take a look.
Ben Roethlisberger (torn meniscus)
Roethlisberger was injured early in Sunday’s game, then played through it. While he was able to play, there were a couple situations where it’s clear he was in some pain and that the knee was “catching” because of the tear. The positive is that the tear is small and the surgery was done as a “mini trim.” The surgeon went in and did as little as possible, chopping off only a small piece of the meniscus. With this kind of surgery there is minimal swelling and no chance of re-injury. (The meniscus can be further damaged, but unlike a repair — what Adrian Peterson had — there’s no way to damage an area that’s been removed.)
This kind of modified meniscectomy is very common and has a quick rehab. Roethlisberger will be weight bearing quickly, perhaps as soon as Tuesday, and the key focus will be getting any swelling out and returning range of motion. There’s a chance — not a probability — that Roethlisberger could be back at practice late this week and playing. The old “if this were the playoffs” trope is probably true here, or Roethlisberger more likely would have continued to play on the damaged knee. The most likely outcome is that Landry Jones draws this week’s start against New England and that Roethlisberger is back after the bye.
Carson Palmer, Arizona (strained hamstring)
Coming off his concussion, the Cardinals know just how important Palmer is to the team. When he hobbled off late Monday with what looks like a strained hamstring, the team and fans had to be worried. Reports have Palmer’s strain as very minor and my sources confirm this. Palmer felt his leg grab a bit earlier and felt it was a cramp. He was treated and returned, but when he felt it again, the lead allowed the team to pull him without worry. He’ll undergo some treatment, but the hope is that rest will be the biggest help. Palmer may not practice fully until late in the week, but as yet, it doesn’t look like there’s much chance that Palmer will miss any game time.
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants (bruised hip)
It’s easy to ignore the hip bruise given the fact that Beckham got back on the field and went off for 200-plus yards. What Beckham suffered is called a hip pointer, a simple bruise to the top of the hip. It can be intensely painful because of the amount of nerves there and the lack of muscle or fat over the bone in that area. Beckham had no issues in the game, but like many injuries of this type, it tightens up, so coming out is a bigger issue than running. There’s no indication that this is major, but the Giants medical staff will work on this early in the week. I’d be surprised to see Beckham miss any time after Thursday, but it does bear watching some.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City (post-surgical knee)
It’s a good sign for Charles that Knile Davis has been traded. The lack of depth isn’t the issue, but Davis had apparently asked for a trade and the Chiefs said they’d do their best once Charles was healthy. While Charles didn’t take the full workload as expected, I’m not sure, having watched closely, that it was about Charles’ knee. Right now, Spencer Ware is just effective, so not using him wouldn’t make sense for Andy Reid. Charles didn’t seem like the Charles of old, but he did show some cuts, some burst and some power near the end zone, all good signs. I think we’ll see him start to up-shift both in effectiveness and touches over the next couple weeks.
James Starks, Green Bay (torn meniscus)
It’s never a good sign when a team feels they need to trade for depth. With Davis now with the Packers, it’s clear that they needed to augment the running back position, which indicated that they knew Starks was going to be out a while. As with Roethlisberger, Starks has a torn medial meniscus and underwent surgery on Monday. Starks’ tear is a bit more significant and more of the meniscus was removed. The Packers are saying that Starks will miss four weeks, but sources tell me they think there’s a chance it could be a shorter period. The team will need to keep Eddie Lacy healthy in the interim, but Davis should get some work regardless. Once Starks is back, it will be interesting to see how Mike McCarthy splits the work. The short week is definitely going to be an issue for the Packers.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay (strained hamstring)
The plan was that Martin would return after the bye, jumping right back into the RB1 slot for the Buccaneers. Missing practice on Monday isn’t a good start to that plan, with Martin still having some issues with the hamstring. The team also signed Antoine Smith, which isn’t such a big deal that it would hold back Martin’s return, but shows that Jacquizz Rogers isn’t the answer, even in the short term. If Martin is able to get back to practice and plays this week, we’re likely to see a lot of rotation in the backfield. Even so, Jameis Winston has shown that he’s more likely to go to a short passing game versus a hobbled running game, so adjust your expectations all around for the Bucs offense.
Dez Bryant, Dallas (bruised knee)
So just as I expected, Bryant didn’t play last week ahead of the Cowboys’ s bye. He’s walking unaided and showing no issue with the knee while walking and jogging, but no one has seen him running hard or making cuts. We’ll see how quickly those come once he returns to practice, which will likely be in another week. There’s really not much that can be done in the way of rehab, aside from trying to make sure there’s no atrophy, loss of range of motion and that there’s no new symptoms with activity. Once Bryant is back on the field, we’ll be looking for the burst and cuts.
You’ll note that there’s still no consensus, even from the Cowboys, about whether Bryant’s injury was a bruise or fracture. Again, it doesn’t matter since the treatment is the same and his lack of function is what kept him out this long. Focus on the function, not the diagnosis. Beyond that, Bryant’s going to have a lot of questions about who his quarterback is and whether the emergence of Cole Beasley and Brice Butler will cut into his targets.
Jordan Reed, Washington (concussion)
Reed has had a number of concussions, both in the NFL and previous, but concussions in the short term are not cumulative. Research and practice has shown that as long as the brain is given time to heal, the vast majority of sufferers will return without any short-term consequences. Fifth or fiftieth, a brain injury is like any other trauma, though certainly the long-term consequences alter the equation. The issue is less about the injury and whether Reed simply does things that puts him in a position to have concussions or that he is he more susceptible. There’s no timeline on Reed, but expect Washington to be very conservative with this given the scrutiny and the extended period with symptoms so far.
Bumps & bruises:
Tony Romo has been cleared to practice, but won’t until next week. That’s an indication that his return after the bye is not happening. That means Dak Prescott has until Week 9 and who knows how long after that. … Josh McCown is back at practice, but no word yet on whether he’ll be cleared for contact and games in time for Week 7. In other Browns news, Robert Griffin won’t need surgery on his fractured shoulder, but there’s still no timetable for his return. … Carlos Hyde is in a sling after injuring something — probably his shoulder — this week. I’ll be watching for more details about how much time he’ll miss, but the whole Niners offense is a mess right now. … Without Theo Riddick, the Lions went to Zach Zenner over Justin Forsett. Riddick’s absence or return will further confuse who gets the touches in Detroit. We won’t have much of an indication on this until late in the week, if then. … Stefon Diggs was expected back after the bye, but he’s still limited with the groin strain. We’ll have to wait to see if he amps up his activity as the week goes on. … The Ravens took the long view on Steve Smith, holding him out last week. If he’s back at practice late this week as expected, he’ll get right back into the mix. … I’m still not sure why Will Fuller was active last week. The hamstring strain was enough that he didn’t play and certainly a “desperation play” situation had to have come up in the Texans’ comeback, right? … The Colts say Donte Moncrief is getting closer, but there’s no chance he plays against the Titans this week. … Dwayne Allen has an ankle sprain and his availability for Week 7 is in doubt. That makes Jack Doyle, Red Zone Machine, an even bigger target for Andrew Luck … Jamie Collins‘ hip is still an issue. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots give him another week off given the absence of Ben Roethlisberger. … Reshad Jones has torn his rotator cuff and will need surgery, ending his season. This is similar to what Eric Decker dealt with and has an extended rehab. … Allen Bailey‘s shoulder injury was initially announced as a bruise, but now there’s reports that he could miss the season. This one bears watching for Kansas City’s pass rush prospects.