With Week 12 in the books, it's almost playoff time -- fantasy football playoff time, that is -- so returning players who may be able to help spark a roster immediately are key. With that in mind, we begin this week by turning our attention to one such player, a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers who is itching to get back on the playing field after a seven-game absence.
When Greg Jennings suffered a groin injury in the Packers' season opener against the 49ers, no one would have predicted he would be essentially sidelined until December, let alone that the injury would later require surgery. In fact, it seemed as if his absence in Week 2 was largely due to the game coming on a Thursday night, just four days after the original injury. Jennings did indeed return for Week 3 and saw a significant amount of playing time. A week later, however, he netted but one catch and was forced out early after aggravating the groin. That would be the last time he played.
Jennings and the team projected the same message from that point forward; he would not risk another setback by returning before he was 100 percent healthy. Jennings dedicated himself to rehab and conditioning, working out in the pool and on land under the watchful eye of the medical staff with the goal of being able to run full power. Unfortunately, running remained problematic. When asked in October how the injury limited him, Jennings told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "Creating separation. I just can't get that last gear right now."
As it turns out, difficulty generating the power and explosiveness necessary for running is one of the hallmark signs of a core muscle injury (more specifically a muscle in the anterior hip, groin and abdominal region). Commonly referred to as a "sports hernia" in the past, the term has fallen out of favor with those who are the most expert in dealing with these injuries, primarily because the "hernia" portion of the term is a misnomer. There is no true hernia present; instead the injury represents a tear or a defect in one of the core muscles in the anterior pelvic region and the muscle(s) involved can vary. For this reason experts such as Dr. William Myers, who operated on Jennings and is considered one of the foremost authorities on this topic, are now referring to this collection of injuries as core muscle injuries. When pain and inability to perform athletic functions persists, surgery is often required. While it's naturally preferable to avoid any surgery when possible, the positive with this procedure is that the success rate is very high. Rarely do athletes suffer a setback that requires a repeat surgical procedure and they often return at or close to their pre-injury level. As the entity has become better recognized and understood, athletes in multiple sports such as football, baseball, soccer and hockey have been able to obtain proper treatment and return to an elite level of play.
The post-surgical rehab is fairly straightforward. There are no crutches or splints required. The athlete can walk immediately and exercise can be initiated quickly. Beyond cardiovascular conditioning, core exercises are gradually ramped up and running is ultimately restored, with a timetable of approximately three weeks to push full speed. As the athlete gains confidence he can test the boundaries of jumping and extending, both vertically and laterally, something athletes are initially hesitant about since those same movements were typically painful prior to surgery. Depending on the degree of complexity of the injury and the extent of surgery, most athletes are able to resume full activity within four to six weeks. For Jennings, who underwent surgery Nov. 1, this marks the four-week point. As important as his physical recovery is the confidence Jennings has regained since surgery. He was a limited practice participant last week -- including a day in pads -- and was pushing to play Sunday night. His eagerness to get back on the field of play shows he is comfortable with the repair, a different Jennings than the one who was hesitant earlier this season to commit to a timetable after repeated setbacks. "It's frustrating," Jennings told the Journal-Sentinel, "because your body, you feel like everything is OK, but the moment you go do something you're accustomed to doing, it's just not there."
As we head into Week 13 ...
Let us first acknowledge a few players whose seasons have come to an early close due to injuries suffered this past week. Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson suffered multiple rib fractures on Monday night, adding injury to insult in another Eagles loss. Jackson's timeframe for healing exceeds the time left in the regular season. The San Francisco 49ers lost two players to season-ending injuries in a single play. Even more strange is that the two injuries were sustained completely independent of one another yet both had devastating results. The team lost kick returner and wide receiver Kyle Williams to an ACL tear on a non-contact play. Frank Gore's primary backup Kendall Hunter was initially reported to have injured his ankle Sunday. The Sacramento Bee reports Hunter suffered an Achilles tear, citing a source with knowledge of the injury. Both Hunter and Williams have been placed on injured reserve. Brandon Jacobs saw his first action of the season when Hunter was injured and is now available to back up Gore along with Anthony Dixon and rookie LaMichael James. The New York Giants also lost depth at running back when Andre Brown suffered a broken fibula Sunday. Brown has been placed on IR/designated for return but would not be expected back before late in the playoffs, possibly the Super Bowl should the Giants make it that far. On Tuesday, the team announced the signing of Kregg Lumpkin to bolster their running back squad.
In other news, two more running backs left games early this week with ankle injuries. Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears was injured in the third quarter and did not return. Coach Lovie Smith did not elaborate on his condition Monday. This could be one of those watch-to-see-what-happens-in-practice situations and may even come down to a game-time decision. Fantasy owners should prepare for the possible absence of Forte. In Carolina, the Panthers will likely be without Jonathan Stewart, who suffered a high ankle sprain Monday night, according to coach Ron Rivera. While Rivera would only call Stewart day-to-day, the nature of the injury combined with a short week for the Panthers make it unlikely Stewart will be available.
Raiders running back Darren McFadden could be in line for a return this week. At least his teammates think so. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, fellow Raiders believe McFadden will return to practice this week. McFadden has been doing some individual running so this doesn't seem unrealistic. More to come with Wednesday practice reports.
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy and quarterback Michael Vick remain on the recovery pathway from their respective concussions. The Eagles are now dealing with injuries to their starting quarterback, running back and wide receiver. While Jackson is done for the year, the Eagles plan on getting McCoy and Vick back. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, both still have to clear testing requirements to be eligible to return and there's no guarantee it happens for either of them this week.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin injured his left ankle in Week 9 and hasn't been able to practice, much less play. Harvin did not travel with the team to Chicago and his status for this week remains in question. Although his swelling has reportedly decreased, Harvin has yet to field test the ankle in a substantive manner, making it impossible to predict at this point whether we will see him in Week 13. Even coach Leslie Frazier, who has tried to sound optimistic about his star receiver the past two weeks, told 1500ESPN.com that there is no timetable for Harvin's practice schedule this week.
Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin left in the first quarter of Thursday's game with what was initially referred to as a strained right hip. The Dallas Morning News reports Austin thinks he'll be able to practice Wednesday but head coach Jason Garrett, who described Austin's ailment as a "hip/low back thing," didn't sound as confident. In fact, Garrett described Austin as "fighting through" the hamstring issues this year suggesting he's really not been at 100 percent, despite the fact he has yet to miss a game. According to ESPN's Ed Werder, the expectation is that Austin will play against the Eagles Sunday night, despite the recent injury. Speaking of missing games, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray has missed six games since spraining his left foot and may remain out again this week. Remember shortly after the injury when team owner and president Jerry Jones said on the Cowboys' official website, "I don't think it's long term. I think we'll have him back in the foreseeable future"? To be fair, he also said he wouldn't predict, but his updates over the next few weeks continued to convey optimism with regards to Murray's progress. It's an interesting sign that the tone of his outlook seems to have changed. According to ESPN.com NFC East blogger Dan Graziano, following Thursday's game Jones had this to say about Murray: "We can't get a prognosis that another week's rest will do anything." (Translation: No more projections.) Murray has been doing some individual work and is certainly further along than when he was sporting a walking boot and crutches. But the true test of pushing his foot through practice drills has yet to happen although Werder reports the first attempt to do so is scheduled to take place Wednesday. Until it does- and until the team can see how Murray responds to the activity, the uncertainty about his status will continue.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown could be approaching a return from his high ankle sprain. Brown rejoined the team in practice last week but was not quite ready for game action. If he gets another uneventful week of practice under his belt, he should be in good shape to face the Ravens. As to who will be throwing the ball to Brown, head coach Mike Tomlin says the "door is open" for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to return, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Roethlisberger, who suffered a sternoclavicular and first rib injury in Week 10, is out of his sling and is beginning to test his arm. It really comes down to how effectively Roethlisberger can function and whether he can make the necessary throws to be on the field. After this particular injury, hard cross-body throws are likely to be the most challenging, along with deep vertical passes. The Post-Gazette notes that the team is preparing for Charlie Batch to be under center once again, but will monitor Roethlisberger's efforts in practice.
Danny Amendola has been a regular on the injury report this season and this week is no different. The Rams' athletic wide receiver suffered a foot injury in Week 11 which had him in a walking boot early last week and kept him out of practice entirely. After being listed as doubtful (technically with less than a 25 percent chance of playing), Amendola was a surprise active but, not surprisingly, wasn't very active. He had one reception for 38 yards but was essentially removed from action for the bulk of the game because of persistent foot soreness. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports coach Jeff Fisher sounded more optimistic Monday about Amendola's chances for returning to practice this week. Still, while Fisher doesn't offer specifics about the injury, he does not suggest that Amendola is healthy by any stretch. "He's healing, but it's going to take time until he gets back to 100 percent." In other words, this has the sounds of Amendola being active again this week but there's no telling how much playing time he'll actually be able to deliver.
Maurice Jones-Drew is not expected to return for the Jaguars this week, according to head coach Mike Mularkey. Jones-Drew continues to recover from a significant midfoot sprain and has not yet returned to team practice. Jalen Parmele injured his groin during the game and despite a valiant effort to play through it, the injury was too much to overcome. The Jaguars announced Tuesday that they have placed Parmele on injured reserve and thus it appears Rashad Jennings will be the starting running back against the Buffalo Bills this Sunday.