Injuries to watch: Ryans, Jones-Drew

The AFC South holds two of the top six spots in Danny Tuccitto’s 10 biggest NFL injuries to watch.

Houston linebacker DeMeco Ryans is sixth and Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew is fourth.

Here’s what Tuccitto says, paired with my thoughts.


Injury: Torn left Achilles tendon

Tuccitto: “Defenses typically switch to the 3-4 based on the talent and depth of their linebacker corps. With three current or former Pro Bowlers among their four starters and second-round pick Brooks Reed likely providing pass rush off the bench, the 2011 Texans fit the bill. Ryans' recovery from a torn left Achilles tendon appears to be the only real question mark among the group. As the presumptive starter at weakside inside linebacker, his main responsibility will be as a tackling machine in run defense, a task that suits him perfectly.

“Before his injury, Ryans was one of only two linebackers to have more than 400 total tackles from 2006 to 2009, and he helped the 2009 run defense to its second-best ranking in franchise history (16th). Last season, the Texans dropped eight spots to 24th.

“Although he's still young and is now nine months removed from surgery, it's no guarantee that Ryans will return to his preinjury form this season: A 2009 study of NFL Achilles tendon injuries found that a returning player's three-year production after surgery is an average of 50 percent worse than his three-year performance before surgery. If that happens with Ryans, Houston might again find itself as the NFL's breakout team that doesn't break out.

Kuharsky: How well and how completely Ryans returns from this injury is a huge storyline for the Texans. He’s a great player and a great leader and if he isn’t the same guy he was before the injury, the defense will suffer for it.


Injury: Meniscus tear

Tuccitto: “Jones-Drew missed the Jaguars' final two games in 2010 after aggravating a meniscus tear he originally suffered during the preseason. He also showed up several times on the team's weekly injury report with ankle and abdominal injuries. Although he has yet to show any of the statistical signs that usually portend a running back's demise, we have a couple of concerns about Jones-Drew's health going forward. First, Jacksonville has spent the better part of a year trying to convince outsiders that their star running back's knee injury really is no big deal -- really!

“Indeed, just this month, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter denied a report suggesting that the team is planning on limiting Jones-Drew's workload in 2011 even though the report came from Jones-Drew. Second, despite Jones-Drew's 5-foot-7 height, the Jaguars have run the ball up the middle more than any other team in the league since he became the unquestioned starter. It's not a stretch to infer from this that an unusually high number of collisions with larger players may be starting to take its toll.

Kuharsky: If they limit him a bit as needed to maintain the knee and to ensure he’s still got gas in December, that’s fine. But the Jaguars should not adjust his workload in any form or fashion looking beyond this year. Get all you can out of a premier running back while you can, because you never know where the slow-down arrives no matter what you do to try to stall it.