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Injury Analysis: Jeff Stotts Breaks Down the Preseason's Key Injuries

Jeff Stotts

Jeff Stotts

Jeff Stotts works as a Certified Athletic Trainer (MAT, ATC, PES, CES). He won the 2011 Best Fantasy Football Article in Print from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

NFL training camp has arrived and with it comes the usual wave of aches, pains and injuries. Meanwhile, players looking to bounce back from season-ending injuries in the previous year get their first crack at impressing their coaches and teammates, proving the hours of rehabilitation have paid off.

New England's Wes Welker is one such player as he returns from reconstructive surgery on his torn left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). He has been a surprise participant in training camp and was recently removed from the PUP list. Welker's muscle strength and agility has impressed onlookers at Pats' camp as he has shown the ability to make solid cuts and move effectively laterally. He is sporting a functional knee brace and has been able to absorb several hits during practice sessions. However, he did not dress for the team's first preseason game, and it's too early to declare Welker officially back.

The wideout underwent the procedure to repair his ACL in early February putting his current recovery time at a little over six months. While he's been active in practices and has recently joined contact drills, it's highly unlikely the ACL graft is at full strength. Often the graft isn't 100 percent until one-year post surgery. The situation is complicated by New England's consistently vague reports on the statuses of their players. However, given the information we have, Welker remains a high-risk, high-reward player. Fantasy owners willing to spend a fifth or sixth round selection on Welker would be taking a calculated gamble, a move right on par with his current ADP of 80.79.

St. Louis' Steven Jackson is another marquee talent trying to prove last season's injuries will not be an issue in 2010. Jackson underwent offseason back surgery in late April to repair a herniated disk. He has gradually increased his repetitions throughout training camp and has revealed he focused on strengthening his core muscles to ensure it will not be a nagging ailment. To further protect their high-profile running back, the Rams have also elected to give Jackson the occasional day off throughout the remainder of training camp. All indications point toward Jackson being willing and able to shoulder a heavy workload for the Rams.

Carolina wideout Steve Smith remains optimistic he'll be in uniform for the season opener against the Giants. Smith is recovering from a fractured left forearm that required the insertion of a plate and surgical screws to stabilize. The injury occurred under odd circumstances, as Smith was playing defensive back in a flag football game. Furthermore the injury occurred just six months after Smith underwent a similar procedure on the same arm after breaking it in Week 16 of last year. While it's impossible to guarantee that the second break occurred because of the previous one, it's safe to believe it played a factor.

Bone heals in three successive phases. The final phase is known as the remodeling phase. During remodeling, specialized cells known as osteoblasts and osteoclasts work together to repair the damage by laying down and absorbing new bone tissue so that the fractured bone closely resembles the original. Generally a fractured bone can be substantially healed after six to eight weeks but the remodeling phase can continue for months to a year. So while Smith had been cleared for activity, the bone was still at elevated risk for re-injury.

Smith has been able to continue his conditioning and should be able to return to practice in the coming weeks. He produced solid numbers with new quarterback Matt Moore (19 catches, 378 yards, and three touchdowns in a three and half games) before being injured and is an undeniable talent when healthy. However, before selecting him remember the multiple fractures and hardware in his arm increase the likelihood that Smith could suffer another injury to it.

In addition to working closely with rehabbing athletes, NFL athletic training staffs work frantically to battle the heat and ensure minor ailments do not develop into something that will nag an athlete throughout the grueling season ahead. In Denver, the athletic trainers already have their hands full with two of the team's top running backs. Second-year back Knowshon Moreno and veteran Correll Buckhalter are both nursing injuries just two weeks into camp.

Moreno suffered a severe right hamstring strain in the team's first training session and could miss the entire preseason. The Broncos initially feared Moreno had suffered a torn hamstring, but a MRI did not reveal a significant tear. The hamstring is a muscle group primarily responsible for bending (flexion) of the knee and is crucial for explosive movement. The hamstring muscles work in conjunction with the quadriceps muscle group to accelerate and decelerate the knee, like when a running back is attempting to hit a hole or avoid a defender. Often a hamstring strain will occur in athletes with an imbalance in strength between the quad and the hamstring. If the athlete's hamstring is considerably weaker than their quadriceps, it is unable to equally counteract the contraction of the quad making the hamstring muscles more likely to be strained or completely torn. Moreno will miss the next three weeks of training camp treating the strain and hopes to be ready for the season opener on September 12.

Moreno's backup is also banged up. Buckhalter is suffering from stinger-like symptoms associated with a back injury. The Broncos anticipate he will be cleared to return following their first preseason game after his visit with a neck and spine specialist did not reveal any significant cause for concern. However Buckhalter has a history of injuries and should not be counted on as a legitimate fantasy option, especially when you consider Denver recently inked LenDale White and Justin Vargas.

Chris Wells avoided serious injury earlier in the week after taking a hit to the midsection on Monday. While no fractures turned up on the CT scans, "Beanie" does have a bit of swelling in the area. Wells remained sore throughout the week and is unlikely to play in the team's preseason game against Houston. If the injury continues to be a concern, he may be forced to wear a bulky flak jacket that could increase the likelihood of fumbles. The injury comes at a poor time as it will not allow Wells to put any distance between himself and Tim Hightower for the feature back role in Arizona's offense.