Thursday night injury update: Latest on Julio and RBs

A sore knee limited Julio Jones in practice this week. What is his status for Thursday Night Football? Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The position of running back continues to be perhaps the most challenged by injury, and nowhere is that more evident than in Thursday’s game. Both teams have players in line to play snaps at running back tonight whose names may not be widely recognized because, well, they haven’t had much opportunity on an NFL playing field.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers include Antone Smith among their running backs for Thursday night. As Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times points out, Smith’s four carries in last week’s game were a career high. Despite being in the league for seven years, Smith has never functioned as a primary back, and yet, given his complementary pass-catching abilities, he could be just that on Thursday night (although he is expected to share some work with Peyton Barber).

For the Atlanta Falcons, starting running back Devonta Freeman’s name is familiar, but Terron Ward’s might not be. Ward, in only his second NFL season, is expected to be the No. 2 back behind Freeman Thursday night. Given his production against Green Bay in Week 8 (six carries for 46 yards and one reception for 11 yards), he could net some points for fantasy owners who are desperate to fill a slot vacated by an injury or a bye week.

Why are these relative unknowns being asked to step up? Just take a look at who has been ruled out in advance of tonight’s game.

For questions about the new injury reporting language, click here.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Doug Martin (hamstring; out) and Jacquizz Rodgers (foot; out), running backs: Martin injured his hamstring way back in Week 2, and while he was expected to face a multi-week absence, fantasy owners were looking forward to his projected return after the team’s Week 6 bye. Unfortunately, Martin suffered a setback prior to the Buccaneers’ Week 5 Monday night game and he has not practiced since. He remains without a timetable for his return.

Rodgers stepped up when both Martin and Charles Sims (now on injured reserve with a knee injury) were ruled out for Week 5 and the results were impressive. He notched more than 100 yards rushing and another 28 receiving, giving the team -- and fantasy owners -- confidence in him going forward. It didn’t last long, however, because Rodgers suffered a foot injury very late in the Week 8 game against the Raiders. In a walking boot to start the week, it never appeared as if he would be ready for a Thursday night game. The question now is how long Rodgers is expected to be sidelined, something the team has not yet discussed publicly.

Atlanta Falcons

Tevin Coleman (hamstring; out), running back: One player who won’t be taking the field for the Falcons is Coleman. He is sidelined for the second consecutive game with a hamstring injury. Coleman has not yet returned to practice, but head coach Dan Quinn’s original suggestion that Coleman might be a game-time decision hints his return may not be too far off.

Jacob Tamme (shoulder; out), tight end: The sight of Tamme exiting the Week 8 game early with medical personnel helping to support his injured arm did not bode well for his status in a short week. As expected, Tamme will sit this one out, although Quinn said earlier this week he doesn’t expect this to be a long-term problem, according to ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure.

In the meantime, Austin Hooper steps in to fill Tamme’s role Thursday night.

Not on game status injury report

Julio Jones (knee), wide receiver: Watching Jones in action is like watching video-game highlights; his physical ability and spectacular catch-making skills are seemingly on display every week. Part of them being on display weekly is due to the fact that Jones rarely misses games, despite the physical toll his acrobatic feats take on his body. Jones has been on the injury report virtually every week, averaging one day off a week to rest and receive treatment to help get him toward game day. Each week, the issue seems to be in the lower extremity, an ankle sprain, a calf strain and now a knee ailment. Once again, Jones was limited this week, yet even with a short week managed a full practice Wednesday.

It’s not all bad news on the pregame report for the Falcons. Jones was taken off the game status injury report, indicating he will indeed play Thursday night.