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Injury Analysis: NFL Injury Updates

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.

Miles Austin, Andre Johnson, Hakeem Nicks, and Peyton Hillis are just a few names on a lengthy list of NFL players to suffer hamstring injuries so far this season. Each of the aforementioned players has missed at least one game with the ailment and some are expected to miss more. Receivers, required to make sudden starts and stops, dominate the list because of the amount of force they subject their hamstring muscle group to while running routes and eluding defenders.

In Dallas, Austin missed a good portion of the preseason with a left hamstring strain. He aggravated the injury in a win over the 49ers and was sidelined for the next two games. He returned following the team's bye week and played in four straight games before suffering another hamstring injury early in the second quarter of Dallas' Week 9 win over Seattle. A MRI performed Monday revealed a significant strain that is expected to keep Austin out for at least two weeks. However given his recent past don't be surprised if Austin sits through the team's Week 12 Thanksgiving Day game. In the meantime, Laurent Robinson has emerged as a top target for Tony Romo. He has two 100-yard receiving games in his last five outings and has scored in back-to-back weeks. Fantasy owners in need of a receiver should take a good hard look at Robinson.

Just down the interstate, the Texans are preparing to be without Johnson for the sixth straight week. Johnson suffered a hamstring strain in Week 4 and returned to practice two weeks ago. However the five-time Pro Bowler developed soreness after a hard workout last week and his status for practice this week is unknown. Head coach Gary Kubiak says his receiver is nearing a return but the team is proceeding cautiously after last week's setback. With a Week 11 bye on the schedule it would be smart for Johnson to sit one more week and target a Week 12 return for a divisional matchup against the Jaguars.

The news is more encouraging in New York as it sounds like Nicks could return to the practice field in hopes of playing against San Francisco. Nicks missed his team's win over the Patriots nursing a minor hamstring strain but it sounds like the extra time paid off. Monitor his availability in this week's practice before confidently reintroducing him to your lineup but it's likely Eli Manning will have one of his top weapons back in his arsenal.

A frustrating season for Hillis continues. After missing two weeks with his left hamstring strain, he appeared poised to return in Week 9. However he reinjured the area in practice and was unable to go against the Texans. A reinjured hamstring or aggravated hamstring is not surprising. As a muscle heals, the body randomly lays down new collagen fibers in the area of the tear. These new fibers fill in the gap but remain weak until they have successfully integrated into the preexisting muscle fibers. If an athlete attempts to return before the fibers are substantially healed, particularly one with strong legs like Hillis, they are prone to aggravate the area causing the entire healing process to restart. While athletic trainers and medical professionals often utilize various techniques to minimize the randomness and properly align the developing soft tissue, time remains the key component.
There were whispers Hillis could be headed to the injured reserve, but the Browns have stated they would like him to rehab the injury and get healthy. He will miss at least one more week and it seems likely he will miss more time to insure the leg is 100 percent.

Darren McFadden
It's looking more and more likely that McFadden will not be available when the Raiders travel to San Diego for a Thursday night matchup against the Chargers. McFadden was still in a boot early this week and unable to put much force through the foot so it seems unlikely he will be ready in a shortened week. If he does miss Week 9, hopefully the extended rest will allow him to return 10 days later against the Vikings. The key for McFadden remains stability in the midfoot so that he can properly accelerate and make cuts. McFadden's replacement, Michael Bush, rushed for 96 yards and caught a pair of passes for 33 yards and a touchdown and remains a solid fill in.

Dustin Keller and Hines Ward
Both players suffered head injuries on Sunday that illustrated the different ways athletic training staffs and now NFL officials handle suspected concussions.

Keller struck his head on the turf after an ill-advised attempt to hurdle a defender. Following the newly established NFL protocol, the officials recognized the potential for a head injury and signaled for the Jets medical staff. The team then removed Keller from the sidelines and performed a battery of concussion exams in the confines of the locker room. Once Keller successfully passed the exams and it was established he longer displaced any signs or symptoms of a concussion, he was allowed to return to the game. The tight end is expected to play in an AFC East battle against the Patriots.

In Pittsburgh, Ward went to the ground following a helmet-to-helmet collision with Ray Lewis. Ward's arms went rigid in what is known as the fencing response, a strong indicator of a head injury. The veteran receiver was helped off the field and the medical staff wisely took his helmet from him. If you see an athletic trainer take or hide a player's helmet it's a good sign that a concussion is suspected. Players can't sneak back onto the field if they don't have their protective equipment.

Given this fact and what was visible on television it was clear Ward suffered at least a concussion. However, Pittsburgh oddly reported the injury was a nerve injury known as a stinger. This may have allowed Ward to remain on the sidelines instead of being forced back to the locker room like Keller was in Buffalo. The Steelers later admitted Ward suffered from "concussion-like" symptoms but is expected to play in Week 10. If a concussion did occur Ward would still have to follow NFL protocol to receiver clearance to play so there is no guarantee yet he will be available. With Emmanuel Sander out after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, emerging wideout Antonio Brown could again play a key role in the Pittsburgh passing game.

Turf Burns

Ahmad Bradshaw: Bradshaw is hopeful he can play through a cracked fifth metatarsal. However he already has a surgical screw in the bone and would be an extremely risky play.

Dallas Clark: Clark's season is in jeopardy thanks to an undisclosed lower leg injury. He returned to the sideline in a protective boot and underwent further tests on Monday. He is expected to miss several games at the very least.

Felix Jones: The Cowboys hope Jones can return to practice Wednesday. Jones has missed the last three weeks with a high ankle sprain. Rookie DeMarco Murray has shined in his place and Jones may have lost his starting role.

Kevin Kolb: A myriad of foot injuries including a bone contusion, turf toe, and a midfoot sprain are expected to sideline the quarterback for his return to Philadelphia. John Skelton would once again get the nod.

Greg Salas: The St. Louis receiver will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a fractured fibula. He will need surgery to repair the break.

Nate Washington: Washington suffered a hip bruise but is not expected to miss this week's game against the Panthers. The team had feared he suffered a more severe hip pointer after injuring the area in the first half and falling on it again in the fourth quarter.

Jeff Stotts is a Certified Athletic Trainer, MAT, PES and the Injury Analyst for You can follow him on twitter @RotoWireATC.