Thursday practice reports are perhaps the most torturous. They can breed false hope -- athlete practices Thursday and looks like a lock to play only to have more soreness the next day and end up downgraded in Friday practice -- or insecurity -- injured athlete is still not doing much by Thursday, so there's no way he'll be ready by Sunday, right? Except the past three times you thought that, he not only showed up Sunday, he was also the top scorer.
Welcome to our world. While Thursdays bring us a little closer to game time, there are still many things that can change in the next 72 hours. Still, there are often hints as to which way a player's status is trending, and we want you to be tormented right along with us.
Here's what we're looking at so far in Week 2:
Arian Foster, Houston Texans, illness: Foster's knee (or the "area around [his] knee") turned out to be a nonissue in Week 1, and his prediction that he would play was accurate. He did not practice Wednesday due to an unspecified illness but was back in business Thursday. Expect Foster to be his usual self Sunday.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers, shoulder: Mathews is approaching five weeks since his surgery to repair a fractured clavicle. Although he has done individual drills and worked out intensely, the protocol shifted Wednesday. Mathews did not practice with the team Wednesday, which, as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune, was a part of the team's plan, not a reflection of a step in the wrong direction.
"He worked pretty hard to the side," coach Norv Turner told the Union-Tribune. "He just didn't practice. We'll get him out there as soon as we can."
The protocol shifted again Thursday when Mathews turned up in practice in helmet and shoulder pads, the first time he has been in equipment since his injury. This is an encouraging sign, as clearance for contact represents the final barrier to Mathews' return.
Still, the team is not saying he is ready to suit up Sunday just yet. There is no doubt the Chargers will want to see how he responds to this level of practice and perhaps follow up with additional evaluation Friday. With any luck, there will be some indication as to his game status before the actual game time.
Rashard Mendenhall, knee, and Jonathan Dwyer, foot, Pittsburgh Steelers: Mendenhall has been listed as a full participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday. He continues to make strides in his recovery from ACL reconstruction, but it is not clear whether he is ready to face his first game action just yet. Pittsburgh does have an early bye week (Week 4), and it's possible we do not see Mendenhall before then.
Meanwhile, Dwyer showed up on Wednesday's report because of a sore foot. Not to panic. He was in full practice Thursday, and the expectation is that he will play. Coach Mike Tomlin complimented Dwyer's Week 1 performance in his Tuesday news conference, saying he thought Dwyer "represented himself well and will probably get an increased opportunity because of it."
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers, ankle: Stewart did not play in Week 1 because of a sprained ankle even though he had resumed planting and cutting late in the week. Apparently he has improved on those fronts. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Stewart was moving more decisively this week, according to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. Knowing how rarely Stewart misses games, it's hard to imagine him missing Week 2 with his improving mobility.
Rashad Jennings, Jacksonville Jaguars, knee: Despite coach Mike Mularkey's comment after Sunday's game that Jennings' knee injury did not appear serious, there has still been no indication as to the specifics of the injury. Mularkey told reporters Wednesday that an MRI showed no significant damage, which leaves us to wonder as to the nature of the problem. Last year, Jennings suffered a sprained knee that resulted in him landing on injured reserve. This latest injury was reportedly to the same knee, although there has been no indication as to whether the two injuries are related. The strongest indicator that he will not be ready by Sunday: Jennings has not practiced this week. Looks like the rock will go to Maurice Jones-Drew.
Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills, knee: Jackson is out this week; this we already know. What remains less clear is how long he will be out. On Tuesday, I explained the reasoning for re-evaluation within seven to 10 days. Jackson essentially confirmed as much on the Bills' official website stating, "What we're going to go re-evaluate is my healing. That's what we're going to look at in seven to 10 days. We've got a good picture of it and know what we need to do to get it right."
His point was that the MRI gave a good picture of the injury, but how his knee responds initially is to be determined. He is optimistic that he can return on the shorter end of the timetable. "Hopefully sooner, but I'll definitely be back in four weeks," said Jackson. "Without a doubt." Love the attitude.
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions, foot: Johnson made everyone nervous when he missed Wednesday's practice with what was termed a foot injury. After all, ever since he was anointed the face of "Madden NFL 13," superstitious types have been fearing the worst. (Most who appear on the cover go on to be beset by injury that season, never mind the odds of any football player sustaining an injury in a given year).
Put those fears to rest, at least for now. Johnson returned to practice Thursday. Now might be a good time to point out that the physical play of Johnson has often left him bruised, battered and sitting out midweek practices in the past. If a similar pattern plays out this year but Johnson still shows up big on Sundays, no one is going to complain. It just might make for a case of the nerves each week.
Jeremy Maclin, hip, and DeSean Jackson, hamstring, Philadelphia Eagles: Maclin's right hip continues to be an issue, as he did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. According to CSNPhilly.com, Maclin said he felt better than he did earlier in the week and then was off to test his hip with some running. There's no word on how that went, but since it was not followed by practice, it's reasonable to assume it was less than ideal.
The surprise was the addition of Jackson to the injury report. Jackson was a regular participant Wednesday, but on Thursday, coach Andy Reid informed the media before practice that Jackson would not be present due to a hamstring injury. According to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jackson hurt the hamstring at the end of Wednesday's practice and was seen sporting an ice wrap on his left leg.
There's no telling the severity of Jackson's injury by the limited information available, but late additions to the injury report are never popular. The closer it is to Sunday when an injury crops up, the riskier the player's status given the minimal recovery time. If an athlete returns to Friday practice, most concerns are alleviated. What Jackson does -- or does not do -- Friday could swing fantasy owners' hopes one direction or another.
Reid made it sound Thursday as if both players were improving and that they could both play Sunday. It would feel so much better if we could see both of them in some form of practice before the weekend.
If there's some good news to be found, receiver Riley Cooper (fractured clavicle) returned to limited practice for the first time Wednesday. It still seems like a stretch that he would be available in Week 2.
Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins, foot: Remember how coach Mike Shanahan said the team would know more after Garcon tested his foot in Wednesday's practice? Well, he didn't practice Wednesday. He didn't practice much Thursday either. Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan quoted Shanahan as calling Garcon "very limited" Thursday. Now Shanahan says the team should know more Friday. Early in the week, Garcon seemed confident he would be able to play.
Foot injuries are often difficult to assess for a receiver until he tries to make high-speed pivots and cuts where the foot is subject to increased shear forces. At this point, it does not look encouraging, but there is still another day to go -- another day to worry for fantasy owners. Heck, it could be another three days to worry if this goes down to Sunday.
Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers, knee: Smith was officially limited at practice Wednesday and Thursday because of soreness in his right knee, but it does not seem to be a major concern. The Charlotte Observer quotes Rivera as saying Smith is expected to play Sunday.
Nate Washington, leg, and Kenny Britt, knee, Tennessee Titans: Washington is listed with a leg injury on this week's report (no head injury as was initially suspected). He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday but expects to play Sunday. If he returns to practice Friday, it would go a long way toward confirming his availability.
Meanwhile, Britt is back and practicing with the team. He was a limited participant Wednesday and Thursday. According to Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean, coach Mike Munchak expects Britt to be in the range of 15 to 25 plays Sunday. It's worth remembering that this will be Britt's first game action since undergoing three knee surgeries, one of which was an ACL reconstruction. His participation in the game could evolve -- or devolve -- depending how his knee responds. There is little doubt the Titans are eager to reincorporate him into the offense given his talent, but whether he is ready to pick up where he left off remains to be seen.
Denarius Moore, Oakland Raiders, hamstring: Moore has been a full participant in practice and impressing his teammates. According to the Contra Costa Times, quarterback Carson Palmer said of Moore, "He looked like the Denarius of old." Moore also said his conditioning was improved, another indication that holding him out of Monday's game was probably wise. It appears he will be ready to play in Week 2.
Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers, ribs: Gates has not practiced this week due to sore ribs. Before anyone panics, remember the Chargers played in a Monday night game, so he has had one fewer day of recovery. If anyone can take a couple of days off from practice and still perform in a game, it's Gates. I'm not overly concerned ... yet.
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans, left shoulder: Locker returned to limited practice Wednesday and increased his participation Thursday, strongly hinting at a return Sunday.
John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals, ankle: On Tuesday, it seemed highly unlikely that Skelton would be ready to return this week after getting carted from the field with an ankle injury. Coach Ken Whisenhunt did not want to commit to Kevin Kolb early, but by Thursday, ESPN's Adam Schefter was reporting a decision had been made. Kolb will be the starter in Week 2 against the New England Patriots.