The Jacksonville Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew, a player whose durability has been one of his hallmark traits, has been felled by a foot injury that is likely to keep him out several weeks, lending credence to the notion that the feature running back is indeed an endangered species.
Jones-Drew was a holdout through camp and Rashad Jennings was the Week 1 starter. But Jones-Drew arrived in competitive shape and his readiness to resume his role -- combined with an injury to Jennings in the season opener -- ensured him the starting job and the workload. And even when Jennings recovered, Jones-Drew still maintained a lock on the job.
And then came Week 7. Now, Jones-Drew is out with a midfoot sprain. On the positive side, he does not need surgery. Still, there is no timetable for his return and he is likely to be absent for multiple weeks. In the meantime, Jennings finds himself back in the starting role.
Here's who else we're keeping an eye on in Week 8.
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers (Achilles): It has now been two weeks since Mendenhall's injury but he is still not practicing. The Steelers may be playing it cautiously with him, but that stands to reason given his recent ACL surgery. If he's not practicing this late in the week, it does not appear as of now that he'll be a candidate to play on Sunday. Meanwhile, teammate Isaac Redman returned to limited practice Thursday for the first time since injuring his ankle two weeks ago. That's encouraging, but not enough to show that he's out of the woods. As a result, Jonathan Dwyer appears to be in line for another start.
Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns (chest, rib): Richardson started in Week 7 but did not finish after he was removed from the game for ineffectiveness. His difficulties don't come as a huge surprise given the injury, and avoiding more contact may have done him some good. While it seemed that the team might opt to hold him out this week if he didn't progress, Richardson seems to think he has made strides. As he told the Akron Beacon-Journal, "This week, it feels way better than it did last week. You know it's making progress, and I can really tell the big difference from this week to last week." Nate Ulrich of the Beacon-Journal noted that head coach Pat Shurmur agreed with Richardson's assessment. He has practiced consecutive days on a limited basis and if he can do it again Friday, it appears he will be given another opportunity to play through his injuries.
Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers (ribs): Gore suffered bruised ribs in Week 7's Thursday night game, but it didn't stop him from putting up big numbers. Nor did it keep him out of Monday's practice. Gore again practiced fully Thursday and even though the 49ers don't play until Monday night in Arizona, there seems to be little worry that Gore will be out there.
Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants (foot): Bradshaw was on the injury report in Week 7 because of his foot but, as expected, he still suited up. He did not practice Wednesday, which didn't come as a surprise; however, when he didn't practice Thursday -- after coach Tom Coughlin had indicated he might -- it raised a few eyebrows. Bradshaw dismissed the concern, saying that he expects to practice Friday and play again Sunday. It bears repeating that Bradshaw consistently played through a painful foot in the latter part of last season. He seems to be very aware of how to manage his body and still get it to respond on game day. Expect Bradshaw to play in Week 8.
DeMarco Murray (foot) and Felix Jones (knee), Dallas Cowboys: Murray is still not practicing and, despite reports earlier this week that the Cowboys were hopeful to have him back soon, he is clearly not ready to take the field. According to ESPN Dallas, Murray will not hint at a return date. The likeliest reason? He doesn't know. Until he tests his foot, it's hard to predict when he will actually be in uniform. Meanwhile, teammate Felix Jones is dealing with a bruised knee suffered in Week 7. He did not practice Wednesday but returned to limited work Thursday and is expected to be ready by Sunday.
Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts (knee): There was some surprising news out of Indianapolis as Brown, who recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, returned to full practice Thursday after limited work Wednesday. If he's able to repeat the effort Friday, it could point to a Sunday return, which would match the initial outer projection of three weeks.
Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers (groin): Jennings has opted to undergo surgery Tuesday to address his ailing abdominal/groin area. The announcement came as a bit of a surprise after reports earlier in the week said that Jennings would be put through a running test Thursday, then possibly return to practice Friday. After Jennings sought a second opinion earlier this week from noted expert Dr. William Meyers, he elected to undergo the operative procedure. Jennings revealed that he has a tear in the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscles in the abdomen). The rectus abdominis and the key adductor (groin) muscles attach right next to each other on the pelvis. These tears or defects in the abdominal wall or the adductor (groin) muscles are all interrelated and can lead to the same functional issues: pain and difficulty with power and explosiveness, namely when it comes to running. Sometimes an athlete will have virtually no symptoms during everyday activities -- or even during light exercise -- but attempts at power movements reveal the lingering issue.
For the typical presentations, surgery is fairly quick and the recovery is generally straightforward. The range for recovery tends to be between four to six weeks to resume full competitive activity. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that doctors expect Jennings to be sidelined about three weeks; though three weeks is typically the average time it takes to be cleared for full activity, there is often a delay between being cleared to resume activity and being ready to play. Individual responses vary and a factor in recovery is the athlete regaining confidence in the healing of the lower abdominal/groin area. Although the area is surgically repaired, the athlete is often hesitant to push to maximum effort for fear of aggravating the injury; after all, the athlete often arrives at surgery after experiencing setbacks throughout attempts at conservative rehab, as Jennings did. After initially injuring himself in Week 1, Jennings returned to play in Week 3. The following week he aggravated the injury and he has not been able to run since.
Even Jennings won't commit to a return this season, although he's hopeful. He spoke to reporters Thursday and offered these thoughts about his timetable: "As far as the timeframe of how long the rehab and recovery will be, my body will tell me that. They give you certain timeframes ... but at the end of the day, it's going to be determined whether I feel good or not is when I'm going to return back onto the football field. But not season-ending. Hopefully I can return before the season ends." Jennings is wise to address this now as continued setbacks may have prevented him from ever coming back at full health this season. Now he has a good chance to do that, though it wouldn't be a surprise if he doesn't return until December.
Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins (foot): As the details emerge about Garcon's injury, it makes more and more sense why it has been so difficult for him to play. The Washington Post reports that Garcon traveled to Charlotte to consult with Dr. Robert Anderson this week, and Garcon has revealed he has a torn plantar plate. The plate is fibrous tissue which reinforces the joint capsule at the base of the toe. It's not that the diagnosis is changing but rather that the severity of the injury is becoming more apparent. As noted by the Post, Garcon could require surgery, although he hopes to postpone it until after the season. It is likely to come down to whether he can return to a high enough level of play in the presence of what will likely be persistent pain. This is a difficult injury to play through and it would not be surprising if Garcon ultimately comes to the same conclusion.
Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers (hamstring): Nelson was added to the Packers' injury report Wednesday after his hamstring tightened up during practice. He was then held out of practice Thursday and the plan is to do so again Friday, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Silverstein noted that Nelson may test the hamstring Saturday or Sunday. This sounds like a day-to-day assessment where the team will monitor Nelson's progress before putting him through any aggressive testing. The plan makes complete sense from a rehab standpoint, but may make it tough for fantasy owners who won't know whether he will play until near game time. If Nelson's first test doesn't come until pregame on Sunday and he ends up being active, it would be hard to have confidence that he's completely free and clear of the injury.
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (ankle): Graham sat out last week's game but his presence in practice late in the week was encouraging. The hope was that he might increase his work this week if his ankle was progressing. Graham has continued to be a limited participant, but according to Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, coach Joe Vitt said he was "about the same" on Thursday as he was Wednesday. Overall, it's not as significant an increase from last week as one would hope and it doesn't exactly sound like he's nearing game readiness.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert (torn labrum, left shoulder) put in full practices both Wednesday and Thursday and looks to be in line to start this weekend. The injury is to his non-throwing shoulder and should not pose much of an issue for him to be able to play. It may be painful if he lands awkwardly on that side, but he should be able to handle the ball just fine.
Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has resurfaced on the injury report because of his back. He has been practicing fully and is expected to play, but after delivering a big-game performance against the 49ers in Week 7, his injury is worth keeping an eye on heading into Sunday.
New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has been a full participant in practice so far this week. He continues to increase his work during the week and appears to finally be turning a corner in the health department.
St. Louis Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola (shoulder) has returned to limited practice this week. While this is encouraging and Amendola says he has an outside chance to play, it would be very surprising if he actually suits up in London.
And on a final note ...
Four teams (Buffalo, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Houston) are on bye this week, which means players from these teams will not appear on this week's official NFL injury reports.