As usual, the preseason generates its fair share of injuries on top of all the lingering issues heading into camp. I'll be taking a look at some of the more notable injury news regarding running backs and wide receivers as we head into the final week of preseason action.
Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders: Just when it looked as if Bush might edge out Darren McFadden for the top spot, he suffered a left thumb fracture in the Raiders' third preseason game. While early indications were that Bush was expected to undergo a surgical procedure Monday, coach Tom Cable would neither confirm nor deny on Monday whether that had taken place. According to the San Jose Mercury News, "We are going to adhere to the in-season injury policy," Cable said, "and we're not going to talk about injuries, or where anyone's at, or what's going on with them."
Bush decided to tweet about it Tuesday, however. So we now know he underwent surgery to stabilize a Bennett's fracture. A Bennett's fracture is a break at the base of the first metacarpal, the bone that connects the wrist to the thumb. The break is located where the metacarpal meets the carpal or wrist bones (the carpometacarpal joint). This joint is significant because it has a great deal of mobility, which is needed for pinch and grip.
When treated promptly, this type of injury can have a very good outcome. Surgery to pin the fracture helps ensure proper alignment and allows for earlier range-of-motion exercise. Bone typically takes six weeks to heal, although it can be less in a small bone of the finger or hand. Once Bush's thumb demonstrates good bony healing, he likely will be allowed to return to play, but with some form of protection for the thumb. How cumbersome the protective device is might dictate how well he is able to carry and catch the ball. Although there is no official timetable for Bush's return, there are many variables that could influence it, including the extent of the fracture, how quickly his bone heals and how well the thumb can be protected while still allowing him to function. At this point, he should not be viewed as a lock to start the season.
Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills: Jackson broke the fourth metacarpal in his left hand in Week 1 of the preseason, which, although certainly a setback, isn't all gloom and doom. The fourth metacarpal, the long bone in the hand that connects the base of the fourth (ring) finger to the wrist, is not in a place that requires regaining significant range of motion or muscular strength. Once the bone has shown adequate healing, the injury should be behind him, minus the lingering effects or risk of recurrence of, say, a hamstring injury or knee sprain.
The typical timetable for bone healing is roughly six weeks, sometimes less in a smaller bone of the hand. Jackson's initial timetable was projected at four to six weeks, depending on how the healing progressed, which allows the possibility for a Week 1 return, although he likely would require some sort of protection, such as a heavy splint, for competition. Jackson has returned to practice and, according to the Bills' official website, coach Chan Gailey indicated he could be available Week 1 but likely would be limited. With Marshawn Lynch back in practice and C.J. Spiller performing well, expect Jackson's involvement to build for the first few weeks. The good news is that once the bone fully heals, Jackson's injury should be in the rearview mirror.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars: It's tough to evaluate what you can't see, especially in the absence of any meaningful information, such as a diagnosis. When Jones-Drew hadn't practiced for several consecutive days because of an issue with his knee, it raised red flags. After a report of a "scope" on his knee, Jones-Drew's agent issued a statement calling the story "absolutely false." What we do know is that the team is holding him out of practice in the final week of the preseason so he can rest his knee and continue with rehab. According to The Florida Times-Union, coach Jack del Rio said surgery is "not necessary."
So, what to make of this situation? The Times-Union reported that Jones-Drew indicated on his radio show that he is "as healthy as I'll be." Those words suggest that his knee might not be perfect, but that he and the team think it is serviceable. How Jones-Drew's knee will hold up under the demands of a season of football, especially for a stalwart running back, remains to be seen. Without knowing the specifics of the injury, the likelihood of his condition worsening is virtually impossible to project.
Although it's understandable that the team wants to protect its most valuable ground asset from further injury, the mere fact that he is being so carefully guarded for the remainder of the preseason is cause for pause. At worst, this ailment turns into something bigger that causes Jones-Drew to miss significant time. At best, Jones-Drew is entering the season under a shroud of mystery and the possibility that an underlying condition exists that could become exacerbated at any time. For fantasy owners, it becomes a matter of deciding whether you can live with the uncertainty.
Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo Bills: Lynch sprained his right ankle on Friday, Aug. 13 (the same day teammate Fred Jackson broke a bone in his hand, superstitious Bills fans take note), but the Bills are optimistic that he will return by Week 1. In fact, Lynch was cleared Tuesday to return to practice and participate in the preseason finale. Thursday should provide an opportunity to see whether Lynch's injury is behind him.
Steve Slaton, Houston Texans: Slaton was already in a position of having to prove himself, needing to erase the memories of multiple fumbles last season. Those fumbles were caused, at least in part, by Slaton's inability to feel or grip the ball adequately, the result of a pinched nerve in his neck. Slaton's season ended prematurely because of the condition, and he underwent offseason neck surgery when the symptoms lingered even after extensive rest. Slaton entered training camp reporting significant improvement in how he felt and cleared for all elements of football.
With the loss of Ben Tate for the season to an ankle injury, the competition seemed to be between Slaton and Arian Foster. Slaton was given more kick return assignments in camp, however, and Foster appeared to have the edge for the starting job. In the Week 3 preseason contest, Slaton suffered a turf toe injury, and he is now virtually certain to take a back seat to Foster. Although the extent of the toe injury does not sound especially serious (the Texans' website suggests he could be ready for the season opener), Slaton did not need to add an injury. Coach Gary Kubiak is known to rotate his running backs based on performance, but it would appear that Slaton's value has taken a hit.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys: Much was made of the size of Bryant's hands and his ability to make spectacular catches during rookie minicamp in May. On the final day, however, he turned his ankle. During June OTAs, Bryant came early and stayed late to work on fielding punts. But halfway through the scheduled sessions, Bryant developed hamstring tightness and missed several days of practice. In July, Bryant was the first Cowboy to step on the field for training camp, trying to set a tone for his readiness to play. Within days, Bryant had suffered a high right ankle sprain, the most serious injury for him thus far, which not only caused him to miss the remainder of training camp practices but also put the start of his season in jeopardy.
Notice a pattern? On the positive side, since joining the Cowboys, Bryant has impressed everyone with his punctuality (something he was not known for in college, which raised concerns at draft time), his eagerness and, above all, his raw talent at the wide receiver position. On the down side, one cannot help but notice that every session of workouts has been interrupted by injury. In fact, Bryant did not work out at the NFL combine because of a hamstring injury he was nursing at the time.
Although Bryant has made significant progress in his recovery from the recent high ankle sprain, and the Cowboys' medical staff has been properly cautious in not allowing him to return too quickly, the injury concerns going forward cannot be overlooked. The hope is that Bryant will be ready for the season opener (he has returned to practice, but, according to The Dallas Morning News, his conditioning needs work) but he will not have played in a single preseason contest. There are already indications that it is unlikely Bryant will muster a full season without some type of injury setback. Fantasy owners have to evaluate the upside of Bryant's talent alongside the potential risk of an absence caused by injury.
Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings: Fantasy owners might have all but forgotten about Harvin's ongoing battle with migraines were it not for a particularly scary incident in training camp. Harvin, who had been absent for two weeks early in camp after the death of his grandmother and a migraine flare, collapsed on the practice field in mid-August and was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. The episode reminded everyone -- including teammates who observed it -- just how serious the condition is for Harvin.
Harvin was able to gradually return to activity and even made an appearance in the team's third preseason game, catching two passes in the Vikings' win. Afterward, Harvin indicated that additional medical tests led doctors to believe they have figured out a primary cause for his migraines. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Harvin said "We're feeling really confident. I know we said that a couple times, but I think this time we found what the main cause was." Harvin added, "I'm not saying I'll never get a headache again, but hopefully we can slow it down a little bit. ... It's not life-threatening, but it's something we need to work on and I will."
It's certainly encouraging that Harvin has been able to resume practicing, conditioning and even competitive play. It's perhaps more encouraging that he is so upbeat about the outlook for managing his migraines. Nonetheless, it remains a chronic condition that needs to be managed; it is not cured, at least not yet. That leaves fantasy owners with an element of uncertainty, but if Harvin continues to produce as he did last year, it might well be worth the trade-off.
For more injury capsules and updates, check out our full list in the draft kit.