Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC West [Print without images]

Wednesday, October 5, 2011
NFC West: Injury situations that matter

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Arizona: Beanie Wells' emphatic return from a hamstring injury last week signals he's ready to carry the offense if necessary. That affects every aspect of the offense for Arizona. LaRod Stephens-Howling's has not yet returned kickoffs since returning from a hand injury. His replacement, A.J. Jefferson, has averaged 29.0 yards per return. The team re-signed veteran punter Ben Graham as insurance in case Dave Zastudil's sore knee prevents him from playing. Graham's familiarity with the Cardinals and experience as Jay Feely's holder on field goals made him a natural choice in a pinch. Right tackle Brandon Keith's knee injury could press Jeremy Bridges into the lineup. Bridges has played pretty well when needed, including last week, but his shall-we-say exuberance puts him at risk for penalties.

St. Louis: The Rams have no game this week, but they do have new injury concerns. Top cornerback Bradley Fletcher is undergoing an MRI after injuring his knee during a practice collision with Mike Sims-Walker. Top receiver Danny Amendola had hoped to return from a dislocated elbow after the bye, but reports suggest he could be finished for the season. Mark Clayton is eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list following the sixth game, but the Rams would seemingly have to consider tapping the trade market if Amendola does miss the season. The bye should provide needed relief for James Hall (back), Sam Bradford (hip) and Steven Jackson (quadriceps), among others. Even defensive coordinator Ken Flajole needs the rest after pulling a groin muscle while administering practice drills Wednesday. Update: Fletcher is out for the season with a torn ACL, a devastating setback for the Rams. They have little quality and no depth at corner heading into games against Green Bay, Dallas and New Orleans.

San Francisco: Frank Gore, like the Cardinals' Wells, put to rest injury concerns with his performance in Week 4. Gore told reporters his ankle feels much better this week. The 49ers are getting healthier for the most part. They've welcomed back free safety Dashon Goldson and receiver Michael Crabtree in recent weeks, and both are contributing. Safety Donte Whitner's hip injury is not keeping him from practicing. Receiver Braylon Edwards isn't expected back from knee surgery until closer to midseason, but with Crabtree producing against Philadelphia, the 49ers should be OK at the position. Defensive linemen Ian Williams and Demarcus Dobbs are candidates to fill the roster spot created when backup defensive end Will Tukuafu went on injured reserve this week. Dobbs in particular impressed during preseason. The 49ers will be fine up front as long as their starters are healthy. Update: The 49ers subsequently listed nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga (infection) and cornerback Shawntae Spencer (toe) on their injury report. Losing Sopoaga would be significant.

Seattle: The Seahawks' injury list contains little drama this week. Linebacker Matt McCoy's season-ending knee injury affects the nickel defense and special teams. Seattle brought back former Rams linebacker David Vobora for depth. Injury concerns at linebacker make it tough, in my view, for the team to part with Aaron Curry even though it's obvious Curry no longer fits prominently into the team's long-term plans. Strong safety Kam Chancellor remains sidelined by a quadriceps injury. He did not practice Wednesday and his status for Week 5 is unclear. The team's run defense suffers without him, but not terribly so. Receiver Mike Williams left the Atlanta game with a concussion and is not yet practicing. Sidney Rice's return, Doug Baldwin's emergence and Golden Tate's behind-the-scenes improvement puts the team in better position to play without Williams if necessary.