For a few franchises struggling in the early portion of the season, and one club that certainly isn't having any difficulties, reinforcements for the second half of the campaign could be on the way.
By league rule, players who began the season on the physically unable to perform list or the non-football injury list are eligible to begin practicing this week. And it appears that at least one big-name player from those two reserve lists, Kansas City running back Priest Holmes, is poised to return to practice.
Chiefs coach Herm Edwards told local reporters on Monday that Holmes, who hasn't played since sustaining a serious neck injury in an Oct. 30, 2005 game against San Diego, will be at practice Wednesday when Kansas City begins preparations for Sunday's game at Oakland.
Edwards said that Holmes, 34, and a three-time Pro Bowl performer, would run scout-teams plays at the outset of his comeback in an effort to gauge his readiness for game action.
"You'll get a sense of that from how he does in practice," Edwards said. "That's all you can go by. It's no different than anybody else. You can get a feel for when it's time to get him into a game."
Most league observers felt that Holmes would retire in the offseason, but he surprised even Chiefs officials by reporting to training camp this summer. Holmes never participated in a full-scale practice in camp and at the end of the preseason schedule, after consulting with club officials, he was placed on the non-football injury list.
The physically unable to perform list includes 19 players and a few high-profile names such as New England defensive end Richard Seymour, Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown, center LeCharles Bentley of Cleveland, wide receivers David Givens of Tennessee and Rod Smith of Denver, Houston offensive tackle Charles Spencer, Cincinnati tailback Chris Perry, and Bengals linebacker David Pollack.
Although he is on the PUP list, Pollack, who continues to recover from neck surgery, will not return in 2007. Some of the other players, however, figure to return.
The league's highest paid player in 2006, and universally regarded as one of its premier defensive linemen, Seymour almost certainly will be back for the Patriots before the end of the year. There were rumors that Seymour, who suffered complications from offseason knee surgery, would miss all of 2007. But the Pro Bowl lineman has made steady progress in his rehabilitation and, while New England coach Bill Belichick said there is no news yet on any of the team's four PUP players, Seymour will be back for the stretch run.
Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel said it will be at least one week before Bentley resumes practicing. The two-time Pro Bowl blocker, who signed a $36 million contract with the Browns in 2006, then suffered a devastating patella tendon injury on the first day of camp, has not played since the 2005 season when he was with the New Orleans Saints.
"He's been making progress, but I don't think we're ready to get him started yet," Crennel said of Bentley, who has undergone four surgeries on his knee because of complications that included a staph infection. "We'll see where he is next week."
By rule, teams have until Nov. 6 to allow their PUP players to return to practice. Once a PUP player begins practicing his team has a three-week window in which to evaluate him. At the end of that period, a player must either be elevated to the active roster or remain on the physically unable to perform list for the balance of the season.
Of the 32 teams in the league, only 15 have players on the PUP or non-football injury lists, and just three franchise have more than one.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.