It's another six-team bye week, making fantasy replacements all the more challenging. Sitting out this week are the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos, St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Jacksonville Jaguars.
While teams are on bye, they are not obligated to provide injury reports. It doesn't mean they don't take up the headlines however, so we start in Tennessee.
Randy Moss, WR, Tennessee Titans: It felt a little odd to plug in the Titans after Moss' name, not only because it's his third team this year but also because Moss is not injured. So why is he here? In the injury blog? Leading us off?
Moss is here because I believe his move gives us some key insight into two injured players whom many have been asking about in the fantasy world the past few days. First, the team acquiring Moss just lost its biggest playmaking receiver to a significant hamstring injury. On Tuesday, we were happy to hear Titans coach Jeff Fisher say that Kenny Britt's injury was not season-ending. The Wednesday signing of Moss, however, tells us that the Titans do not expect Britt to return anytime soon. We already suspected Britt's was likely to be an extended absence simply based on the fact that the Titans were describing his condition in terms of whether it was the end of his season or not, as opposed to whether he would miss one or two weeks. As of Thursday, there are several reports indicating Britt is expected out for multiple weeks, including TitanInsider citing a league source saying Britt could be out for as long as two months.
By now, regular readers know that predictive timetables with hamstring injuries are tenuous at best. Short of a season-ending tear that requires surgery and gives a more definitive time frame, hamstring strains -- even moderate ones -- can range in healing time from several weeks to several months. Numerous factors influence the amount of time it takes an athlete to recover. The injuries can be in different locations, such as the middle of the muscle belly, where the muscle meets the tendon (most common), or near where the tendon inserts on the bone. Athletes heal at different rates and bring their own unique injury history with them (for instance, a prior injury to the same area may extend the healing time). And the style of play along with the demands of the athlete's position can impact return time. As of Wednesday, Britt was feeling better, telling reporters, "It's amazing how one day of treatment can help you out." While Britt acknowledged being out for Week 10, as far as the outlook beyond he would say only "We'll see after that." His optimism is encouraging but fantasy owners should note that if the Titans were ready to make a roster move, they should too.
Just as Moss' addition to the Titans reflects on the status of an injured teammate, Moss' departure from the Vikings signals another important development on that team's injury front: the Wednesday return of wide receiver Sidney Rice to practice activity. Rice, who has been on the physically unable to perform list since the start of the season after undergoing hip surgery, was removed from that list this week. Rice was then able to participate in some practice activities, which included running, catching some passes and cutting maneuvers. (Note: Rice does not have a formal designation on the practice injury report, such as "limited," for example, as he is not a member of the active roster.) The Vikings have up to three weeks to evaluate Rice and determine whether to add him to the 53-man roster or end his season. Clearly they hope and expect to do the former. In the meantime, Rice will continue to steadily increase his football activity with the obvious goal of returning to play.
While no specific timetable has been given for Rice's return, the unloading of Moss certainly suggests the Vikings are optimistic about Rice's recovery. After all, as coach Brad Childress told reporters, "He's done everything that he can do from a rehabilitation standpoint," adding, "There's going to be a conditioning aspect that's got to be met." At 6-foot-4, Rice is a sizable receiver who will have to build the endurance necessary to subject his hip to the route running, leaping, landing and yes, falling to the ground that are a part of his position. It's one thing to regain your range of motion and strength to push against resistance in the weight room. It's another to regain your fluidity of motion, physicality and confidence in a leg that has recently undergone surgery, not to mention the stamina necessary to make it through a four-quarter game.
Beyond protecting the hip joint itself, the team does not want to risk Rice suffering a significant injury to one of the key muscles that surround the hip, such as the quadriceps and the hamstring, which have not been maximally tested on the field since his surgery. Working Rice back toward football readiness as well as the speed demands of his position will be the task over the next couple of weeks. Still, fantasy owners should start paying attention to Rice now as his return could be approaching in the not-too-distant future.
Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers: Really? Could the injury news possibly get worse for the Chargers? Apparently the answer is yes. In addition to placing receiver Buster Davis on season-ending injured reserve this week, the Chargers also saw Gates suffer yet another foot injury, this time on the opposite side. Given that Gates has only two feet to work with and both are now seriously compromised, the problems are obvious.
Gates, as most fantasy owners are well aware, was already battling mightily through toe and ankle injuries to his previously surgically repaired left foot. Now to compound the situation, Gates tore the plantar fascia in his right foot during the Week 8 game against the Tennessee Titans, according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Acee's account of Gates' latest woes and the steps he has been taking to stay on the field is absolutely worth the read purely for appreciating how tough Gates has been to this point.
The question becomes then, what can we expect from Gates going forward? As tough as Gates has proved to be and as willing as he has been to push himself through pain, this situation might be the one that forces him off the field, at least temporarily.
The biggest immediate problem, first and foremost, is the incredible pain associated with a tearing of the plantar fascia, the fibrous tissue that supports the arch of the foot. Judging from Gates' own description of the injury as "my foot was on fire," along with the fact that, as the Union-Tribune reports, Gates is requiring a scooter to keep his right foot off the ground, the pain is intense. How long the pain lingers and the intensity of it will be the biggest determinants in whether Gates will be able to play.
Dr. Walter Jenkins, a licensed sports physical therapist and certified athletic trainer at East Carolina University, who is nationally known for his expertise in the area of foot and ankle injuries, points out the plantar fascia has a significant nerve supply. The greater the nerve supply, the more ability to feel pain when the tissue is damaged. Whether Gates completely tore the plantar fascia or partially tore bands of tissue is unknown, but both are exceptionally painful in the short term. In many cases, however, partial tearing is even more painful and longer-lasting as some of those nerve connections remain intact. With a partial tear, even after the initial trauma, every time that partially damaged tissue is stretched there is potential to aggravate the pain.
The anatomy of the plantar fascia is such that every time the foot pushes off, the fascia is under stretch. Jenkins points out that it is impossible to perform at Gates' position without repeatedly subjecting the plantar fascia to stress and strain. "When he gets in his stance, the gastroc [calf muscle] is on stretch. It attaches to the plantar fascia and the heel pad so as he pushes off, it will be painful." And it's not just limited to receiving situations. "As a blocker, he has to push hard through that foot against a defender," Jenkins adds.
What can be done? "Not much," says Jenkins. "It is hard to truly anesthetize the area." Beyond masking the pain, there is the functional aspect of what the loss of the plantar fascia means for support of the foot. The natural treatment would be to create a supportive orthotic (foot support) that could be inserted into Gates' shoe. But as Jenkins points out, early on that orthotic can be even more pain provoking as it comes into contact with the arch. "A custom foot orthotic is intended to build up the arch to make sure the soft tissues -- such as other tendons that control the foot and ankle -- are not being overstretched. But as weight bearing occurs through the medial [inner] aspect of the foot, that orthotic is now in direct contact with the arch and it's painful."
In the short term, the issue will be how long it takes Gates' pain to settle to the point where he can do what he needs to do without pain. And it's important to remember that his left foot is not 100 percent healthy, so it's not as if he can shift more stress to that side. In the long term, there are concerns as well. Although releases of the plantar fascia are sometimes performed to help with pain, its supportive contribution to the foot is lost as a result. Over time, the excessive pronation (rolling inward) of the foot that tends to occur can lead to other structures becoming painful and problematic. Orthotics can help with an athlete's function, but ultimately won't prevent the subsequent changes.
From a fantasy perspective, it's worth rushing out to secure some insurance for Gates right away as it would not be a surprise for him to miss at least this week. But given his amazing history, he's certainly worth holding on to for the time being to monitor how he is able to progress.
Austin Collie, WR, Indianapolis Colts: At last! Some good news on the injury front. Collie, who underwent thumb surgery approximately two weeks ago, returned to the practice field on Wednesday. Collie was listed as a limited participant but was wearing gloves and catching balls. And they weren't softballs either from what I'm told. Better yet, he was out there again Thursday, meaning no setback.
Nonetheless, return to game competition requires the medical staff to be comfortable with Collie taking contact and potentially landing on his surgically repaired thumb. Consequently, a return to practice does not necessarily mean games are around the corner, but it's certainly a big step in that direction. While the Colts have not hinted at his return date, this is certainly encouraging news.
Other injury situations before Week 9
• Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson has been a full participant in practice this week and could return to the playing field Sunday. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Jackson has passed all tests and barring a return of symptoms, is expected to play. Michael Vick is also expected to start at quarterback after putting in full practices so far this week.
• Neither Reggie Bush nor Pierre Thomas appears ready to return to the running back role for the New Orleans Saints this weekend. Thomas was on crutches again as recently as last week and is clearly not practicing. And as for Bush, according to Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, head coach Sean Payton said Wednesday that Bush was "not healthy enough" to go 100 percent with his cuts, burst and other maneuvers critical to his play. Payton indicated that until Bush could do those things at full speed, he would not return to practice. Interestingly, Bush did return to a limited practice Thursday and according to Duncan, Payton acknowledged that Bush was doing more but was "still not moving like he needs to." It is looking as if Bush will be held out until after the Saints' Week 10 bye if he is not able to get back up to speed.
• Running back Donald Brown might be seeing a lot of work for the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday, especially given that of the three top candidates at the position -- Joseph Addai, Mike Hart and Brown -- he's the only one who has practiced so far this week. Addai remains out with the neck/shoulder injury, while Hart, whose ankle was injured Monday night (no specifics given by the team since his MRI) is not doing any football work yet.
• Steve Reed of the Gaston Gazette reports that Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams will sit out again this week because of his foot sprain. Reed says that Williams is aiming for a Week 10 return.
• Oakland Raiders coach Tom Cable has had to contend with several big injuries lately. Wide receiver Louis Murphy is expected out again this week with a chest contusion. Tight end Zach Miller had foot problems that limited his contributions last Sunday and was on crutches earlier this week. While Miller is reportedly off the crutches now, he still did not practice Wednesday. If he's not doing much by Friday, fantasy owners may want to consider a replacement, even if he plays. And there is still quarterback uncertainty, as Bruce Gradkowski tries to return from a shoulder injury. Cable has maintained that Gradkowski will resume the starting role as the Raiders' quarterback once he's healthy. Although Gradkowski says he's feeling better, he still has a ways to go to prove he can be game ready. This could come down to a late-week decision.
• Arizona Cardinals running back Beanie Wells was limited in practice Wednesday as the result of swelling in his surgically repaired knee, according to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. Somers reported Thursday that Wells said the swelling was the result of a reaction to an injection to the knee. Wells is saying he can play this week. There does not seem to be a huge threat to his Sunday status yet, but his situation is worth watching.
• Brett Favre did not practice for the Minnesota Vikings this week but that did not come as a big surprise after the addition of a lacerated chin to his personal injury profile this week. Favre is expected to be the quarterback again this week. Of more concern is wide receiver Percy Harvin's ankle. Harvin did not practice Wednesday or Thursday because of his left ankle sprain and his status for Sunday remains uncertain. We've seen Harvin play with limited practice before, so what he is able to do Friday will be key.
• In addition to Gates' injury troubles, the Chargers have two wide receivers, Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee, who are still struggling with hamstring injuries. They are not expected to return in Week 9.
• Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels aggravated an earlier hamstring injury Monday night, coach Gary Kubiak told reporters. Daniels has not practiced yet this week and could be in danger of missing Sunday's game. Even if he does play, he would likely be limited.
See you at Friday's 3 p.m. injury chat and we'll have the latest injury updates affecting Week 9 in the Saturday morning blog!