In my Tuesday morning chat, one happy participant eagerly wrote in to tell me he had no injury questions because his team was completely healthy. I felt the need to post his comment during our chat because I could not imagine there was such a fortunate fantasy owner to be found, and judging by the responses to his post, it seemed the guy was utterly and completely alone on an island when it came to his injury fortunes. Actually, make that a tropical fantasy football paradise. I regret to inform you, though, Haden in Memphis, that the injury storms are a-comin' and everyone, even you, is bound to feel the effects at some point.
This week's column then is for all the other fantasy owners out there who, like me, have been challenged by injuries somewhere on their roster(s), those of you wondering about your players' collective health and whether you need to find replacements. As has been the case the past two weeks, there are four teams on bye -- Indianapolis, San Francisco, Miami and Dallas -- so be sure to plan accordingly.
Here are some status updates as we look ahead to Week 6:
Eli Manning, New York Giants: The treatment Manning received heading into Week 5 paid off, as he was able to quell his plantar fasciitis pain and start for the Giants against the Oakland Raiders. His team helped him out by netting such a large lead over the Raiders that he was able to sit out the entire second half and avoid aggravating his heel. Manning said after the game that he felt good, and he hoped to practice each day this week.
Manning has shown up for practice this week, but the Giants are limiting his reps, no doubt in an effort to keep the symptoms at bay. Plantar fasciitis is not a condition that disappears quickly, and Manning might well continue a routine of limited activity during the week in order to prevent flare-ups and allow him to play Sundays. There will be a lingering concern that the pain could become exacerbated during a game, as it did in Week 4, when Manning suffered an acute setback and was forced to exit early. There is also the possibility that Manning will continue to proceed week to week without a similar episode. In fact, the longer Manning goes without a setback, the more optimistic the outlook is for an uneventful remainder of the season.
Since there are no guarantees when it comes to managing chronic conditions in an in-season athlete, fantasy owners will have to decide on a weekly basis whether the potential reward with Manning is worth some risk.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Although the Lions have not ventured into any specifics with regard to the injury Stafford suffered in Week 4, it was widely reported that he experienced a patellar subluxation, and a week ago I outlined the nature of such an injury.
Stafford was unable to practice all of last week and, as expected, did not suit up for Sunday's game. On Wednesday, Stafford participated in practice on a limited basis, according to the practice injury report, but there might be some warranted concern as to how his knee responded to even limited work, since Stafford did not practice Thursday. Coach Jim Schwartz has indicated that if Stafford is capable of playing (as in, capable of moving adequately enough to function effectively and avoid a pass rush), he will play. He will not be automatically rested in anticipation of the Week 7 bye. Nonetheless, a downward trend during the week, especially following a significant injury, is not a good sign.
Marc Bulger, St. Louis Rams: Bulger did come off the bench Sunday and showed that his arm is recovering. He reported feeling no ill effects after the game and is back in practice and off the injury report. Bulger intends to start this Sunday when the Rams travel to Jacksonville. His backup, Kyle Boller, is on the injury practice report because of a concussion but did participate on a limited basis in practice Wednesday.
Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks: Hasselbeck had himself quite a day Sunday when he returned to the field with still-healing rib fractures. The good news is that Hasselbeck emerged relatively unscathed and was a full participant in Wednesday's practice. But the biggest health concern in Seattle (which also has the most potential for directly impacting Hasselbeck) is that of the offensive line. Due to a wave of injuries that has decimated the team up front, the Seahawks will be starting their fourth different line of the young season. They're hoping to get a few of their starters back in November following a bye week.
Willie Parker, Pittsburgh Steelers: The good news is Parker was back on the practice field this week for the first time since injuring his toe in Week 3. Parker was able to practice fully Wednesday, but the key here will be how his toe responds to the work. Parker indicated to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he is wearing a custom shoe from Nike to accommodate his injured toe. In fact, Parker said that he has a custom pair of shoes so that they match and help him maintain even balance. It is important for an athlete to wear adaptive shoes in practice to adjust to them in advance of a game. The plates in the shoes help restrict motion at the forefoot; unfortunately, it is this very motion (particularly in the area of the painful toe) that allows an athlete to propel himself forward. A stiffer shoe requires that the player adapt to this new feeling as he pushes off. As they say, practice makes perfect. Parker expects to play this weekend, but how the workload will be divided between him and teammate Rashard Mendenhall is not yet clear.
Correll Buckhalter, Denver Broncos: Buckhalter suffered a sprained left ankle in Week 4 and did not play in Week 5. He was back in practice Wednesday for the Broncos, and the Denver Post reports that he took handoffs and caught screen passes in the portion of practice open to the media. However, Knowshon Moreno, who started in place of the injured Buckhalter in Week 4, was taking the first-team reps. The team is not required to file a formal practice injury report on Wednesday since they do not play until Monday night, but it would appear the team is preparing to have both backs available. That said, it is likely that Buckhalter's ankle is still on the mend; remember, he was on crutches just more than a week ago after the injury originally occurred. We will update Buckhalter's status as the week progresses.
Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins: Uh oh. Portis is again appearing on the practice injury report because of a calf ailment. Portis was limited Wednesday, and it's unclear whether this is related to his prior calf contusion. Portis hasn't missed a game yet, however, and it seems unlikely that that would happen this week, especially if he's able to participate in practice to some degree.
Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints: Bell, who has missed two games because of a sprained MCL, was a full participant in practice Wednesday and appears to be on track to play this week. He would be expected to handle short-yardage and goal-line situations, but really there is no way to project exactly how the Saints will divide up the workload.
Or is there? Bell's teammate Pierre Thomas, who was spectacular after Bell went out with his knee injury, has reappeared on the injury report, this time with a hamstring ailment that limited his activity Wednesday. Apparently this is an ongoing injury for Thomas, but we certainly haven't seen any evidence that it has affected his performance thus far.
As usual, we'll wait to see what happens in the latter part of the week to assess just how healthy these players are. This only adds to the torment of fantasy owners who are wondering how the running backs' workload will break down Sunday. Stay tuned.
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: The right knee injury that forced Johnson out of the game early in Week 5 was deemed not significant by coach Jim Schwartz. But apparently it's significant enough for Johnson to have missed both Wednesday and Thursday practices. The Lions are unwilling to provide much in the way of specifics, but it's not too difficult to interpret lack of practice activity as a bad sign. Of note, the Detroit Free Press reported that the Lions signed wide receiver John Standeford earlier this week. Standeford was cut right before the start of the season but now has been brought back. You take your cues where you can get them. Fantasy owners should anticipate that Johnson might not be available Sunday.
Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings: Here's a little surprise. Harvin apparently suffered a shoulder injury when he landed on it awkwardly during Sunday's win against the St. Louis Rams. Although no one is saying exactly what that injury is, Harvin did not practice Wednesday, and it is unclear whether his status for this Sunday against the hard-hitting Baltimore Ravens is in doubt. Fantasy owners know the drill. Check back later in the week for more updates.
Jerricho Cotchery, New York Jets: Although Cotchery played Monday night, he was not his usual self. Cotchery, who strained a hamstring in practice last Thursday and did not practice again before Monday, felt better after going through pregame warm-ups. Once in the game, however, his hamstring reportedly began to get less comfortable. Cotchery ended up playing longer than anticipated because fellow wide receiver Brad Smith was forced out because of a foot injury. In fact, Cotchery told Newsday that he thought he "probably" suffered a setback with the hamstring. He did not practice Wednesday, and with a short week between contests, the outlook for Cotchery's availability in Week 6 is not great at this point.
Devin Hester, Chicago Bears: Hester took advantage of Chicago's bye week to get some extra rest and treatment on his neck, and he says he's feeling good. Hester suffered a neck strain, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, although it was initially reported as a shoulder injury. A neck injury can certainly result in shoulder pain, so any confusion would be understandable. The important thing at this point is that Hester does not even appear on the injury practice report this week and should be ready to go when the Bears face Atlanta.
Be sure to check back on Saturday for post-Friday NFL injury report updates on all your fantasy players heading into the weekend.
See you at the injury chats (Tuesday 11:00 a.m.-noon, Friday 11 a.m.-noon and Sunday pregame 10:00-10:30 a.m.). And check out Fantasy Football Now on Sundays at ESPN.com from 11:30 a.m. to kickoff for last-minute inactives, rankings and more!