Running Back Concerns (Part 2)
Thomas Jones, Jets: Jones' injury has not been publicly discussed other than by his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, who informed the media that Jones suffered a calf strain three weeks ago. The calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) are responsible for propelling the body forward when the foot pushes off the ground; they are recruited to work harder when driving against resistance (i.e., blockers) or when pivoting while on the ball of the foot. The calf works in a more explosive manner when jumping. Like other muscle strains, the degree of severity dictates the time to recovery and, no, the Jets have not indicated the degree of injury. We do know that Jones had been restricted to conditioning and light activity, until returning to limited practice on Wednesday.
One concern with calf injuries has to do with the location. A muscle strain in the belly of the calf muscle is not as worrisome as a strain near the musculotendinous junction, which, just as it sounds, is where the muscle ends and the tendon begins. The calf muscle is attached to the heel by virtue of its tendon, the Achilles, and a ruptured Achilles tendon would be a season-ender. For the record, Fox Sports' Adam Schein reported that Jones' injury began as an Achilles strain that evolved into a calf strain. The rest period for Jones during the preseason makes sense for the long haul, but he may be a bit slow out of the gate as a result. Jones remains a solid fantasy option for the season, but temper expectations early, as he may not be at full strength for Week 1.
Clinton Portis, Redskins: Whenever a problem in spring minicamps is still a problem in training camp, there is reason to suspect that it will continue to be a problem as the season begins. Portis has been dealing with patellar tendinitis since the spring, and has practiced minimally with the team this summer in an effort to rest the knee before the season. Rest is indeed the best medicine for this condition; the question is whether that rest period was sufficient.
The patellar tendon is the thick tendon that anchors the quadriceps muscle (on the front of the thigh) to its attachment just below the knee on the tibia (main bone of the lower leg). Tendons transfer load from muscle to bone and can become inflamed and irritated when they are repeatedly subjected to high loads. This can be a result of overuse, as is most often the case with runners and jumpers (in fact it is sometimes called "jumper's knee"). Also, rapid shifts between acceleration and deceleration combined with directional changes, which a running back does frequently as part of his game, can place increased load on the tendon, making it more susceptible to injury. Portis was kept from cutting drills in practice until late August, indicating that there was still concern about him aggravating the knee. Furthermore, he has been so limited in practice that his football conditioning may not be game-ready. Portis was going to be sharing the load with Ladell Betts this season anyway, but if Portis's knee acts up early on, then Betts may end up being the feature back. Portis fantasy owners beware: A Week 1 start is risky, as we have not seen enough of him this preseason to feel confident that he can deliver.
Warrick Dunn, Falcons: There is nothing tiny about back surgery. But when a pinched nerve is sending shooting, electric shock-like pain down the legs, spinal surgery seems like a small price to pay. Dunn underwent microdiscectomy, a procedure done to remove the piece of offending spinal disc (cushion between the vertebrae) with minimal collateral damage to surrounding tissue. It is the minimalism of the procedure that allows the athlete to heal more quickly and therefore return to sport sooner. Make no mistake, spine surgery is still a serious matter, and as such, Dunn was expected to perform specific rehabilitative exercises to strengthen various muscles that help support the back. Yet he was able to return to practice only three weeks after surgery, a testament to his excellent physical condition. Success rates for this surgery have been reported to be as high as 90-95 percent and Dunn's rapid return and participation suggest that he will do well as far as his back is concerned. Sharing time with Jerious Norwood may hamper Dunn's fantasy contributions more than his spine.
Brandon Jackson, Packers: Jackson sustained a mild concussion during practice approximately two weeks ago, but returned to practice last Sunday. Every concussion must be taken seriously (see Trent Green, QB injury update), and the Packers certainly did that by holding Jackson out of remaining practices. But Jackson's injury, by all accounts, appears to have been mild. He is the starter for Week 1, so if you have him, use him accordingly.
Vernand Morency, Packers: It seems as if Green Bay's backfield is spending a lot of time in the training room. Morency has been dealing with patellar tendinitis since the beginning of training camp (see Clinton Portis). Like Portis, Morency has been resting, but he returned to practice in a limited fashion this week. Given that his knee has only bothered him for the past few weeks, the rest should help the condition to resolve completely, making it a short-term issue for him. Morency may play this week as a third-down back, but his action is likely to be restricted. His health should continue to improve over the next few weeks, and with it, so should his fantasy value.
Travis Henry, Broncos: Henry ushered in a fresh football start in 2007 with his new team, and a new injury. Henry sprained his left medial collateral ligament (MCL), the ligament that helps stabilize the inner aspect of the knee joint. It was reported to be a Grade I sprain (the most minor), and Henry was encouraged to rest the knee and let it heal through the remainder of the preseason. Henry rejoined practice last week and indicated that the knee felt great, except for some apprehension (not pain!) when running laterally. This is not surprising since the MCL tends to be stressed during lateral cutting. Now that Henry has had a little more practice time under his belt, he should be in good shape for Week 1 and the uneasiness should have subsided. Since Henry has had a tendency to get nicked up in the past, he will want to convince Denver that it made the right choice in bringing him in. Henry has great fantasy potential in his new home.