NFC West: Adderall

ST. LOUIS -- Good morning, NFC West. A few thoughts on what's happening around the division on this second Wednesday in June:
    • Worker safety: Player safety has become the No. 1 issue in the NFL recently, but playing football isn't as dangerous as some other jobs. Donald White, an elevator mechanic with more than four decades' experience, lost his life Tuesday in an accident at the 49ers' stadium construction site. According to the U.S. Labor Department, construction workers incurred 738 of 4,188 worker fatalities in private industry during 2011. "The leading causes of worker deaths on construction sites were falls, followed by electrocution, struck by object, and caught-in/between," the Labor Department reports.

  • Glendale bound: The Cardinals plan to relocate training camp practices to University of Phoenix Stadium from Northern Arizona University. NAU had its charms, but more fans will get to watch practice under the new arrangement. Practicing indoors will eliminate weather concerns. Fewer and fewer teams are going away to training camp. Might the Cardinals eventually move their headquarters from Tempe to Glendale? That would make sense for the longer term.
  • Receiver watch: Coaches from NFC West teams singled out Doug Baldwin (Seattle), Austin Pettis (St. Louis) and A.J. Jenkins (San Francisco) for excellent work recently. Jenkins is the player whose contributions are needed the most by his team. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has in the past predicted good things for Jenkins. This time, Harbaugh praised Jenkins for specific plays he made in practice. We'll want to see how these receivers perform during exhibitions, when they trade their shorts for pads and a much more physical version of the game. Baldwin and Pettis have proven themselves to a greater degree.
  • Miller's boot: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll downplayed as minor the foot soreness that kept tight end Zach Miller from practicing. Miller has demonstrated an ability to play through ailments. However, the visual of him wearing a walking boot amplifies in my mind the importance of Miller's role to the offense. Seattle would have a very tough time replacing him.
  • Harbaugh on PEDs: I found it interesting that Harbaugh would question reports that Adderall was the likely culprit in recent suspensions incurred by Seattle players. An executive from another team made very similar comments to me in private a few weeks back. He thought anyone incurring punishment under the NFL's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances would be wise to blame Adderall instead of substances more directly related to steroids. Here's hoping the NFL and its players agree in the future to disclose specifically which substances triggered positive test results.
There has been some question to this point about Adderall's place among performance-enhancing drugs.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune clears up the confusion with a piece featuring expert testimony from Dr. David Ferguson, a medicinal chemistry professor at the University of Minnesota. This is a must read if you've been wondering where Adderall fits into the equation amid reports linking the Seattle Seahawks and others to the drug.

Among the basic findings, according to Ferguson via Williams:
  • Not just recreational: While there is a social component to Adderall use, Ferguson says the drug enhances performance by improving focus and confidence.
  • Beating the testing system: Adderall leaves the system quickly and becomes undetectable through urine testing after about 10 hours. Drinking water in large quantities can accelerate the process. Players could take Adderall to get up for a game, then pass a test the following day.
  • Side effects: Sustained Adderall use can damage the heart.
  • Addictive: Adderall is an amphetamine. Ferguson: "These guys are playing with fire. They’re throwing gas on it. It’s crazy to me that you would be taking these drugs with normal brain chemistry, and not expecting to have some kind of dependency grow."

That last comment from Ferguson is key. Some players legitimately need Adderall and similar substances to function normally. The drug affects them differently. That is why the NFL allows medical exemptions for Adderall in certain cases.
The Seattle Seahawks lead the NFL in suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs since Pete Carroll became coach in 2010, research by ESPN Stats & Information shows.

Defensive end Bruce Irvin's four-game suspension, announced Friday, was the fifth during that span, according to research ESPN's Steve Martinez conducted using STATS PASS.

The total does not include the 2012 suspension implicating cornerback Richard Sherman, who overturned a four-game ban on appeal. The botched handling of a leaky collection cup proved critical to the successful appeal.

Seven other teams have incurred three or four substance-abuse suspensions for PEDs over that span, including the Denver Broncos and New York Giants with four apiece, according to STATS PASS. The San Francisco 49ers are among 10 teams with zero.

Since 2010, the NFL suspended Seattle's Irvin, Brandon Browner, Winston Guy, Allen Barbre and John Moffitt for PED usage under its policy on anabolic steroids and related substances.

Moffitt said he took Adderall, a psychostimulant prescribed for attention-deficit disorders, under a doctor's prescription without knowing he needed a special exemption from the NFL.

Sherman, who denied violating the policy, has suggested doctor-approved Adderall use is widespread. He called for the NFL to lift its ban on the substance.

The chart ranks NFL teams by most PED-related suspensions since Carroll arrived as the Seahawks' head coach on Jan. 12, 2010.

Carroll and the NFL denied a 2009 report linking former USC players to positive steroid tests. One of the players named in that disputed report, Brian Cushing, later served a four-game NFL suspension for violating the policy on anabolic steroids and related substances.

First-time violators of the policy receive four-game suspensions. The penalty doubles for second-time violators. Third-time violators face suspensions of at least 12 months, subject to reinstatement at the commissioner's discretion. Players suspended under the policy for any length become ineligible for the Pro Bowl or any other NFL or NFL Players Association honors.

NFL policy requires annual testing for steroids and related substances when training camps begin or whenever a player reports to the team after camps begin. Preseason and regular-season protocol calls for 10 players per team to be tested at random each week. That protocol continues into the postseason for playoff teams. Players under contract can be tested up to six times during an offseason, subject to increases following a positive test.

The Seattle Seahawks' first four games of the 2013 season became a bit more challenging from a personnel standpoint when the NFL announced Bruce Irvin's four-game suspension for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs.

Irvin will miss games against the Carolina Panthers (road), San Francisco 49ers (home), Jacksonville Jaguars (home) and Houston Texans (road).

"I want to apologize to my teammates, coaches and Seahawks fans for making a mistake when I took a substance that is prohibited in the NFL without a medical exemption," Irvin said in a statement released by the team. "I am extremely disappointed in the poor judgment I showed and take full responsibility for my actions. I will not appeal the discipline and instead will focus my energy on preparing for the season so I can begin earning your trust and respect again. I look forward to contributing to the team the moment I return."

Irvin joins John Moffitt, Allen Barbre, Winston Guy and Brandon Browner as Seattle players suspended since 2011 under terms of the performance-enhancing drug policy. Richard Sherman avoided a four-game ban by winning his appeal last season. Sherman was also cited under the policy banning performance-enhancing drugs.

Reports linked Moffitt, Browner and Sherman to Adderall. Moffitt later said he took medically prescribed Adderall back in 2011, his rookie season, without knowing it violated the policy.

"The day we had the info on it, I was held out," Moffitt told the Seattle Times last season. "I was holding out my first day so I really didn't know. I don't think guys realize because it is a medication also. There's a lot of cases where guys already had prescriptions, but not through the league. It's just a really weird thing. It's not like steroids."

Irvin's reference to a "medical exemption" -- something that would be required for Adderall use by an NFL player -- and the Seahawks' history with Adderall invites questions about whether Irvin also used the substance. Statements from the NFL and from Irvin did not disclose the substance in question.

Adderall is a psychostimulant sometimes used to treat attention-deficit disorders.

The suspension means the Seahawks could be without two top defensive ends early in the season. Starter Chris Clemons is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL. The team expects him to return in 2013, but returning for the regular-season opener could be challenging. Clemons suffered the injury in January. Irvin, drafted 15th overall in 2012, had eight sacks in a situational pass-rushing role. He replaced Clemons in the lineup following Clemons' knee injury last season.

Seattle's decision to sign free-agent defensive end Cliff Avril appears more important now that Irvin and possibly Clemons will miss games early in the season. And with two-plus months before training camp, the Seahawks have time to make scheme adjustments to fit their available personnel.

Rules allow Irvin to continue practicing with the team. He can play in exhibition games, too. But he'll miss the first four games and cannot return to the team until Sept. 30, one game after the team plays at Houston.

Around the NFC West: Seahawks' CB issues

November, 26, 2012

Potential four-game suspensions facing cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman compounded troubling on-field developments during the Seattle Seahawks' 24-21 defeat at Miami in Week 12.

Details are scarce, but initial reports suggest Browner and Sherman tested positive for Adderall, a widely used (and abused) prescription medication the NFL has banned under its policy against performance-enhancing drugs. Adderall is a stimulant.

Reuters TV put together an informative video on Adderall's applications for athletes, produced earlier this season. The league allows the drug for treating attention-deficit disorder, but only for players receiving approval in advance.

Information regarding suspensions can be difficult to verify. Sherman used Twitter to downplay the news Sunday night, suggesting the situation would be resolved and that he remained unworried.

The appeals process could delay the start of any suspensions.

Seattle faces Chicago (road), Arizona (home), Buffalo (at Toronto), San Francisco (home) and St. Louis (home) to close the regular season.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times expects Sherman and Browner to be available against the Bears while they appeal the suspensions. That could be critical as the team matches up against Brandon Marshall. Having three home games and a borderline neutral-site game (against the Bills) also could help Seattle weather time without its top corners.

Even with Sherman and Browner, the Seahawks allowed two touchdown drives of 80-plus yards in the fourth quarter Sunday. That spoiled an outsanding effort from rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who posted the highest QBR score (90.7) of any NFL quarterback to this point in Week 12.

Wilson has completed 46 of 62 passes (74.2 percent) for 460 yards with four touchdowns, one interception, two sacks and six rushes covering 45 yards during his last two road games. Seattle has led both games in the fourth quarter, only to lose when its defense could not hold a lead.

Update: Sherman has denied usage of Adderall or any banned substance.