NFL Nation: Stephania Bell

The Oakland Raiders received a scare with first-round pick D.J. Hayden.

The team said he is in a local hospital getting tests for abdominal issue and will not be ready until training camp starts in late July. He will miss the rest of the offseason workout program and mandatory minicamp.

Hayden
Oakland coach Dennis Allen told reporters Tuesday that it is too early to tell if the issue is related to the heart injury he had last November. “We can’t rule that out,” Allen said. “Right now, I don’t know the correlation to it, but we don’t anticipate it being an issue.”

The cornerback from Houston, who the Raiders took with the No. 12 overall pick in last month’s draft, severed his inferior vena cava after a violent collision in practice last November. It is an injury that usually occurs in automobile accidents. It has a 95 percent fatality rate. ESPN chronicled his emotional recovery in this video.

After Allen made his comments, the team said that Hayden had surgery to clear scar tissue. It is believed to be precautionary and there have been reports that he has not had a setback in his ultimate recovery. Hayden started to feel symptoms last week in practice.

I reached out to ESPN medical expert Stephania Bell to discuss that Hayden is having a problem so soon after returning to the practice field.

“It is absolutely related to the heart surgery. There wouldn’t be any scar tissue if there wasn’t a surgery,” Bell said. “But they can be very comfortable that it doesn't have anything to do with the heart itself or the vein that was operated on ... It's not totally unsurprising. There are uncertainties about this process and this one of this. It’s a reminder that it’s a process on the road of the recovery with multiple variables going on. There are potentially bumps on the way and this is one of them. It is a setback, but it may not be a a compleltley worrisome one. If we have some more issues down the road it could will be more worrisome, but this could be just a blip on the road to recovery.”

These post-draft workout non-contact workouts are Hayden’s first team-football drills since his surgery.

The team is confident he will be fine and this is simply a minor setback. When Oakland drafted Hayden, general manager Reggie McKenzie said he had no worries about Hayden’s health history. Some around the league thought taking Hayden at No. 12 was a bit of reach and some teams were worried about his health.

The Raiders, who have not signed any of their draft picks, have big hopes for the talented Hayden. He is expected to be an instant starter. While this issue is worrisome, hopefully, the surgery is simply a minor step in a wonderful recovery.

Marshawn Lynch: What to make of his back

September, 6, 2012
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The latest Fantasy Focus Football podcast featuring Matthew Berry and Stephania Bell could inform your NFC West Gridiron Challenge decisions.

It might not make you feel much better about drafting Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch
That is because Lynch heads into the 2012 regular season suffering from an ailment that tends to be unpredictable and recurring: back spasms. Spasms kept him from playing against Cleveland last season. They bothered him some while with Buffalo in 2008. The 2007 NFL draft preview from Pro Football Weekly alluded to "nagging" back issues for Lynch during the 2006 college season, although ankle injuries were a bigger problem.

Part of a developing pattern, or no big deal?

Lynch started 15 games last season. He's missed only one game over the past two seasons combined. He hopes to play Sunday at Arizona.

Bell, ESPN's injury expert, offered initial thoughts on Lynch's situation at the 28:39 mark of the podcast linked in the first sentence of this entry. I followed up with her over the phone Thursday and these were her thoughts:
"The term 'back spasms' is broad. We're parsing words, but if it truly is a muscle spasm, it is protective. By that, I mean, when you try to move, you get more pain and spasms. It trying to keep your body from moving into positions that would aggravate the condition.

"You don't just walk down the street and ding, spasms. It's usually in response to something. You could have direct damage to the muscle tissue if you took a helmet to the back, but usually, it's protective and the most common thing is you have some kind of disc issue going on. We do not know if that is the case with Lynch. There is too little information.

"You can't just go out and run or play with spasms. Even if this is behind him in a few days, it makes you think this could crop up again. It's unpredictable."

Lynch participated in the Seahawks' walk-through session Wednesday. He did not participate in the full practice. We'll want to see whether he makes enough progress Thursday to participate in the full practice.
The San Diego Chargers said Thursday night that the timetable for Ryan Mathews' return from a broken clavicle is 4-6 weeks.

However, ESPN’s medical expert Stephania Bell thinks Mathews may be out closer to six weeks than four weeks.

Mathews, who has an injury history, was injured after one carry in the Chargers’ preseason win over the Packers on Thursday night. He has been expected to be a workhorse for the Chargers this season. They open the regular season at Oakland on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” in 31 days. However, Bell is thinking Mathews may not make his season debut until Week 3.

“Clavicles can be slower to heal; he's not been the best healer in the past; if not well healed could be at risk for re-injury, especially from being driven into the ground on that shoulder or crunch contact (like getting hit from both sides simultaneously as often happens with RBs),” Bell wrote in an email, explaining her thoughts on Mathews’ timetable. “I'm not convinced he's ready by Week 1. The goal is to have him for the bulk of the season so if there is any question as to his readiness, the likely thing would be to err on the side of caution. Not impossible, just not likely based on what we know.”

There will be plenty of updates on Mathews’ recovery in the coming weeks, but Bell’s thoughts should prepare San Diego for the idea of starting the season without its top running back.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Derek Wolfe thought something was strange when he heard a roar as he emerged from the locker room at the Denver Broncos’ practice field.

Is this really how Denver fans treat the arrival of second-round draft picks at the start of training camp?

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Jack DempseyBroncos fans were certainly eager to see new QB Peyton Manning make his training camp debut.
“(The fans) made a pretty big fuss,” Wolfe said. “I was like, ‘Why are they yelling so crazy for me?’ Then I looked behind me and it was (Peyton) Manning standing there.”

Manning’s first camp day as a Denver Bronco was met with unprecedented fan excitement. Some fans were in line to attend the free practice at 4:30 a.m. Thursday and the team announced a record crowd of 4,372 for a camp practice. The previous record was 3,103. A crowd of at least 75 reporters huddled around Manning after his first camp practice in Denver.

It’s real, Manning is a Denver Bronco. And he looked fantastic.

“He’s as accurate as he’s been in the past and I don’t expect anything less from him,” Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said.

Slowly, the focus is moving away from whether Manning can come back from a neck injury that cost him the entire 2011 season. He has made major strides throughout the offseason. Sunday, there were no signs of a quarterback struggling with his health.

ESPN medical analyst Stephania Bell told me she was impressed by the tempo Manning, 36, led Thursday. It is another sign that Manning is all-in and the team is not holding him back.

“The arm strength was there, his passes were on time,” said ESPN analyst Tom Jackson, who was part of the network’s coverage team. “He was Peyton Manning.”

For Manning, Thursday’s practice was another important step on his way back to the field. Manning remains methodical in his progression, but the idea of finally getting back in action for the first time since January, 2011 spurs him.

“I have missed it, and I’ve never taken it for granted to be out there playing,” Manning said. “I had been playing for 13 years straight and never missed a game since I’ve been playing quarterback in the seventh grade. That’s a lot of consecutive games, a lot of Fridays or Saturdays or Sundays to be playing a game, so I’m glad to be back in more of a normal routine, in a practice routine.”

And so are the legions of his new fans in Colorado.


Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs says he expects to play in 2012, in about four to six months following this week's surgery that repaired his Achilles tendon.

The key isn't when Suggs can return to the field. It's when Suggs can return to his old self, the quarterback-harrassing NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

"Some guys will say it takes them a full year to feel like they did pre-injury, especially when it comes to power, speed, explosiveness," said ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell, a certified orthopedic clinical specialist. "Can they still come back and contribute before that? Absolutely, if everything proceeds according to plan and if they are medically cleared."

According to Bell, there is no difference in the recovery time for a partial or full tear. Once surgery takes place, the rehab is essentially the same.

"There are other factors involved in surgery which can slow rehab such as if the tendon was in very poor shape or if there was bone work involved near the attachment," Bell said. "Then there are always post-op possible complications, like infection, which can influence timeline. Not to mention the work the athlete puts in, within the parameters permitted based on the post-op guidelines. It is a lot of hard work to get back from this."

The likely scenario is the Ravens place Suggs on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list at the start of training camp and gauge where he stands after the first six weeks of the season. There's a possibility that Baltimore will try to limit the wear and tear on Suggs by using him as a pass-rush specialist this season.

"So the bottom line is that Suggs could return midseason, if all goes well," Bell said, "but no one can set that timeline in stone right now."
INDIANAPOLIS -- The big injury news during Super Bowl week is the left ankle of New England Patriots Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The extent of the injury hasn't been revealed by the Patriots, who would only say Gronkowski is day-to-day. But Gronkowski's father, Gordy Gronkowski, said his son has a high ankle sprain, which is one of the worst forms to the ankle joint.

Assuming Rob Gronkowski's dad is accurate, the AFC East blog caught up with ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell to examine the issues of the injury. Bell provided insight into the challenges Rob Gronkowski potentially faces.

Stephania, besides the location, what are some differences with a regular ankle sprain and a high ankle sprain?

Stephania Bell: Standard ankle sprains tend to be what we call lateral ankle sprains. Many people refer to them as basketball sprains, because it's what you see a lot in basketball when a guy goes up for a shot and maybe lands on another player's foot. His ankle rolls and turns in, which sprains and injures the ligaments on the front and lateral side of the ankle. In a high ankle sprain, the injury is usually a little bit different. The foot is typically pointed outward and is a rotational injury most of the time. If you go back and look at the view of when Gronkowski sprained his ankle, you can actually see some of that when he got caught from behind. It kind of forced his foot to twist so his toes were pointing outward. So that rotational component injures the ligament that basically attaches to the top of the ankle, which is called the "high ankle." It attaches the two lower leg bones where the roof of the ankle is formed.

Players often complain that the injury is very painful. Where does the pain come from?

SB: What makes it difficult functionally is every time you step on your foot, it creates a force that wants to spread those two lower leg bones apart. Every time you take a normal step and your shin bone, if you will, advances over your ankle, which is what normally happens when you step forward, those ligaments are under stress. They are attached there to help prevent those two bones from spreading. When there's injury there, because of the stress on those ligaments, that's why it's so painful. That's why when you saw Ben Roethlisberger's high ankle sprain, he couldn't step into his throws. Why couldn't he step into them? He couldn't put that full weight over the ankle because he couldn't advance the leg bone over the ankle joint without recreating that severe pain. And [Steelers center] Maurkice Pouncey, the reason he couldn't play in the Super Bowl with it is because of the stance he has to get in. That really stresses full weight bearing over that ankle joint.

You mentioned Roethlisberger and Pouncey, who play quarterback and center, respectively. Does Rob Gronkowski have any advantage or disadvantage over those two playing tight end?

SB: I think it's tough for him. Every time he takes a step it's hard to have your normal mechanics. Part of what Gronkowski does is he moves down the field. So everything mobility wise will be compromised. It's going to be harder for him to run. I'm not saying he won't be able to. One thing that's important to emphasize is we don't know the degree of his injury. So it's hard to know what kind of problem it will be. But the bonus the Patriots have is two weeks. Last week I wasn't surprised at all that he didn't practice. The idea is to keep him non-weight bearing, keep him in a boot, protect that area and accomplish as much healing in that area as you can. Really the key is to ensure he has as much maneuverability as possible by the time he gets to the game.
I caught up with ESPN medical analyst Stephania Bell to discuss the impact of a rib injury suffered by Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel.

Cassel
Cassel
He was reportedly hurt Thursday night at Green Bay and he could miss Sunday’s opener against Buffalo.

Bell said whether Cassel can or cannot play Sunday will ultimately depend on “pain management.” Bell said if Cassel has a cracked rib, it may be difficult for him to play. She said a reason why rib injuries are so difficult to play with it is near impossible to immobilize the trouble spot even thought players often try to play with a protective brace.

“There are a lot of factors at play, but location has a lot to do with it..The higher in the rib area the injury is, the more trouble it can be,” Bell said. “It really comes down to a question of pain management. It is very painful to move in any form throwing to running. The harder you breathe, the more it hurts. So, it could come down to dealing with the pain and it is a very painful injury.”
Despite suffering a left high ankle sprain in the AFC title game, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey seems extremely confident he will be ready for Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6 against the Green Bay Packers. But in our experience -- most recently with the quarterbacks of the Cleveland Browns -- this injury has kept players sidelined for about a month.

So the AFC North blog checked in with ESPN medical expert Stephania Bell to get some insight on whether Pouncey recovering in half the time is possible or a pipedream for the Steelers.

Stephania, let's start with what exactly is a high ankle sprain and why it's more severe than regular ankle sprains?


Bell: It's really where the injury is located. The most common ankle sprain, for instance if you're playing pickup basketball, is when you roll your ankle. Someone goes up to the basket, shoots, lands usually on another player's foot and turns an ankle. The foot points in and all that stress goes to the outside of the ankle and that injures the ligaments down where the ankle attaches to the foot. With a high ankle sprain, the mechanism is different. It's often that the foot is planted and the player's leg gets twisted around. And what happens is it damages the ligaments that are basically at the top of the ankle joint. These are the ligaments that form the roof of the ankle joint where the two lower leg bones connect -- the tibia and the fibula. Those two bones are anchored by ligaments and it helps form the top of the ankle joint. So when those two ligaments are damaged, that's called a high ankle sprain.

Pouncey is confident he can come back in two weeks from this injury. What's been your experience?

Bell: Usually we give an estimate of four to six weeks for a high ankle sprain of the moderate variety. A severe one could take much longer. But you do have some evidence of guys coming back sooner. If you look at [Houston Texans receiver] Andre Johnson, he said he had a high ankle sprain. He later had problems because he tried to push through it, but Johnson was able to play sooner on a less than 100 percent ankle. I think when you look into the context of two weeks, it's the Super Bowl, and Pouncey doesn't have gross instability or a fracture based on what we know. So it will come down to whether the Steelers get the pain down enough and the swelling down enough that Pouncey can have normal motion in the joint and put pressure through the foot. One of the challenges of a high ankle sprain is every time you weight bear or put pressure over the foot, it puts stress right on those injured ligaments. The good news for Pouncey is he doesn't have to go running down the field. In his case, his position helps him. But perhaps the biggest risk is somebody could land on that ankle or twist it again.

Does Pouncey's age at 21 help at all in this recovery process?

Bell: Yes, in one sense we always feel you heal a little bit faster the younger you are. But also Pouncey hasn't had the same extensive career to have multiple injuries, which then often make it harder to heal. It's all of those variables that factor into it. It's the extent of the injury and how well he heals. We see just in terms of swelling after injury, some people will swell a lot and some don't swell so much. And Pouncey having the experience of having a similar injury [right high ankle sprain in college] and coming back quickly certainly helps.

So there you have it from ESPN medical expert Stephania Bell. Pouncey returning to the Steelers for Super Bowl XLV is not impossible but will certainly be a challenge. We will keep you posted on Pouncey's rehabilitation process until the Super Bowl.

Medical expert: Tom Brady in serious pain

January, 21, 2011
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The stress fracture Tom Brady had screwed together in his right foot Thursday was no minor injury.

ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell surmised Thursday night that the New England Patriots' quarterback played much of the 2010 season in agony.

Bell is familiar with the procedure Brady underwent -- a screw inserted in the navicular bone of his right arch -- and said it was the same operation Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia is recovering from.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Elsa/Getty ImagesTom Brady had a stress fracture is his foot during most of his record-setting run of games with at least two TD passes and no INTs.
The surgery was done to avoid a more complicated procedure that could have cost him practice time and perhaps games in 2011 if not treated quickly.

Medical experts expect Brady to participate in the first training camp session and could be back earlier.

Bell, a physical therapist who specializes in athletes and performance artists, said Brady must have been in considerable pain. The Patriots first listed him as having a foot injury on Nov. 10. The Patriots played nine games afterward.

"The concern with a stress fracture in that navicular bone is a lot of stress with weight transfer," Bell said. "That's Brady's plant foot, so it really does make his season that much more impressive. Every time he has to plant and throw, you're transferring weight through that foot, transferring weight through a fracture.

"There's no doubt he was playing through pain. Yet he still was remarkably effective."

Brady set an NFL record by throwing at least two touchdown passes and zero interceptions in nine straight games. Eight of those games came after Nov. 10.

"There's not a lot to rehabbing this injury," Bell said. "The main thing is rest. The presence of the screw will stabilize the foot. Then you just wait.

"You just need to make sure the bone is adequately healed before you start testing it. That's usually about in six weeks. So he won't be able to do any heavy weight-bearing activity in that time."

That could be a concern for Brady. Shortly after his left knee was reconstructed in 2008, a staph infection required follow-up surgery that delayed his rehabilitation. Brady claimed the infection developed because he tried to push himself by carrying his son around on his shoulders two days after the initial operation. Brady said he wanted to prove he was better than his doctor advised.

Medical analyst Dr. Michael Kaplan told ESPNBoston.com reporter Mike Reiss "You can't stress this area until it's done healing or prematurely load it because you don't want the screw to break. If you break the screw, it would be horrific."

In an interview last month with the Boston Globe, Pedroia sounded like his recovery was more taxing on his mind than his foot.

"Some days are great; some days I think too much and I think something is wrong," Pedroia said. "I'm doing so much to try and get my strength back in my left leg that some days are pretty tough."

Seven-step drop: Carson Palmer concerns

October, 11, 2010
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Here are seven notes and observations from Week 5 in the AFC North:

    [+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
    AP Photo/David KohlCarson Palmer is currently on pace for 19 interceptions this season.
  • The biggest concern I have about Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is not his health, it's his decision-making. Palmer suddenly and surprisingly doesn't see the field as well as he used to, and that's a huge issue that is difficult to correct. At times, Palmer is reading defenses like an inexperienced quarterback; his three interceptions in Sunday's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is further proof. Palmer has thrown six picks in five games and probably had an additional four or five that were easily dropped this season. Palmer is on pace to throw 19 interceptions this year, and his career high is 20 for a season.
  • Palmer naturally is going to take a beating for his trio of picks, but the Bengals' coaching staff put Palmer in a bad spot late in the game. Leading by seven with less than three minutes remaining, the Bengals (2-3) faced a third-and-13 at their 38-yard line and Tampa Bay had no timeouts. Cincinnati should have run the ball, punted and pinned Tampa deep in its own territory with two minutes left. Instead, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was overly aggressive and called a pass that turned out to be an interception near midfield. It quickly led to Tampa's tying touchdown and the Bucs later won on a field goal. This was a time the Bengals needed to be conservative.
  • Peyton Hillis' thigh injury could be a lingering issue for the Cleveland Browns and fantasy football owners. Hillis has deep bruise in his right quad muscle, something that has plagued him before. I recently talked with ESPN's Stephania Bell, an expert on sports injuries. She told me this type of injury can be tough, because calcification can build underneath the bruise and cause lingering discomfort. Hillis recently had the hot hand but didn't look himself in Sunday's loss to the Atlanta Falcons, gaining just 28 yards on 10 carries. He has been Cleveland (1-4) best offensive player through five games.
  • Cleveland Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas had a rare off game against Atlanta. Falcons defensive end John Abraham beat Thomas twice for sacks, including the one that injured Seneca Wallace's ankle and knocked him out of the game. Thomas has raised the standard so high that Browns fans have become accustomed to the blindside being protected every week. But Sunday's game provided a rare view of how Cleveland's offense struggles when Thomas isn't at the top of his game.
  • Keep an eye on the topic of pass protection this week with the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1). Starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger moves around in the pocket more and holds the ball longer than his backups, Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon. That has led to plenty of big plays but also a lot of sacks. The Steelers' offensive line must hold blocks a little longer now that Roethlisberger is back. Cleveland sacked Roethlisberger eight times in the teams' most recent meeting last December.
  • It's not a coincidence that the Baltimore Ravens' offense is hitting its stride at the same time as the offensive line. Baltimore (4-1) has won most of the battles in the trenches the past two weeks against the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh. The Ravens allowed only one sack in each of those two games. They didn't run well against Pittsburgh (who does?), but quarterback Joe Flacco was given time to put together a winning performance. On Sunday, the Ravens had no problem pounding the Broncos into submission, rushing for 233 yards, four touchdowns and averaging 5.0 yards per attempt.
  • Lastly, kickers rarely get any love in the Seven-step drop. But Baltimore's Billy Cundiff deserves kudos for his four touchbacks against Denver. Field position is such a big part of Baltimore's game, and Cundiff's kickoffs were booming Sunday. It's hard driving 80 yards against the Ravens' defense. So if Cundiff can keep this up, he could be a nice weapon for an already-stacked team.
Steve SlatonStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSteve Slaton is eager to bounce back from a subpar sophomore season, and he's not averse to sharing carries if it helps the team.
The sign on the road Steve Slaton is traveling is a common one in the NFL for a guy coming off a poor season:

Uncertainty ahead.

In a 15-minute chat with him this morning, I sensed he’s got a handle on that, and is fine with it. He’s ready to prove himself again, plug into the Texans' offense in whatever way he’s asked to and wipe the tarnish off his name that came with a shaky sophomore season.

Something his coach, Gary Kubiak, told him after an outstanding 1,282-yard rookie season in 2008 proved prophetic.

“You come out of a rookie year where you gain 1,100-1,200 yards you think, ‘Damn, this is a pretty easy deal,'" Kubiak said. “I teased with him before the season and said 'The next 1,200 you gain will probably be the toughest of your career. It’s not that easy.’”

Slaton’s still got 763 yards to go to get there after a poor 2009, when he gained only 3.3 yards per carry and fumbled seven times before a neck injury ended his season after 11 games.

By the time he went on injured reserve, he said he had a numb right arm from the top of his shoulder to his thumb, all day every day for two months. A pinched nerve led to a C-5 cervical fusion in mid-January.

He felt the difference as soon as he woke up and doctors told him it went as smoothly as possible and rate his recovery, tabbed to take four to six months, as very good. He said he will be ready for training camp, holding the ball high and tight.

He’s been rehabbing since surgery and can now run and lift weights as long as he limits the stress on his neck.

“Everybody wants to come in their second year and never have that slump, and not have an excuse for something you think you can help,” he said. “It was uncharacteristic of myself to fumble that much. I won’t say it was the only thing, but I think it was a big part.”

A revamped run game is the team’s offensive objective this offseason. The Texans were a bad rushing team no matter who carried the ball, Kubiak emphasized. That was on the running backs, the line, the scheme and the coaches.

Guards Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel were lost for the season early on, and with Kasey Studdard and Chris White in their place, the interior line was a weakness.

“We regressed in there, not by lack of effort, just by young players having to play,” Kubiak said.

As the Texans seek to boost the run game and give a great pass game featuring Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson better balance, Slaton should be part of a new backfield combination.

If the price falls on a veteran free agent such as Chester Taylor or Thomas Jones, maybe one of them could be getting carries. If they don’t see a value there, the Texans will attack the spot in the draft.

After failing with Ahman Green and Chris Brown, the popular thinking and the team’s tenor suggest the Texans will address other areas in free agency and look for the running back in the draft.

“That has been a young man’s position in this business for a while,” Kubiak said.

So the expectation is that Slaton is the team’s quick back and the Texans will attempt to bring in a bigger guy who can be effective in short yardage and goal-line situations.

“I’m not the biggest guy, I’m not the smallest guy,” said Slaton, who was listed as 5-foot-9, 215 at season’s end. “This league spits out running backs, they don’t last too long. So to have somebody to help in certain situations is good. I want to be the guy when the game is on the line, you give me the ball.

“… As a running back, you’re always stingy but you’ve got to be smart. If it helps the team, if I can’t get it done and somebody else can get it done, then I’ll gladly let that person come in and handle that job. But my thing is I want to be that go-to guy, I’ve always been that, that’s what I pride myself on.”

While he’s encouraged by his recovery, ESPN’s resident physical therapist Stephania Bell put up a caution flag. (See sidebar.)

“He will need to work diligently to strengthen the stabilizing muscles around his neck (very deep muscles) as well as all the muscles in the upper back that help support the neck,” she said of going forward with the neck issue. “While he can very well be cleared to return -- and he can indeed go on to have success and not have another major incident -- there is inherently more risk, simply because of what he has been through.”

Kubiak doesn’t sound like he wants to distribute carries by preset formula, just the flexibility to use two different quality options in situations in which they excel. Offensive line/run game guru Alex Gibbs is no longer on the coaching staff, but Kubiak said the team has invested a lot of time in his zone blocking scheme and will stick with it, adding a few things.

One-cut-and-go backs are usually the guys who fit it well, though Kubiak said he’d be fine with two cuts.

Slaton is good with 20 carries in a game, Kubiak said, and actually runs better in the second half than he does at the start.

“But I think like anybody else in this league if you put the whole load on him, you can wear him down pretty damn quick, so we need a complement to him,” he said. “… Obviously there is a place in this league for that guy, there is no doubt. He can make big plays. And then there is a place for a guy who can take a little bit more of a pounding and be a short-yardage and red zone guy. I think there is a place for those two guys in the league.

“The bottom line is we’ve just got to get another good player to go with him.”
Paul KuharskySean Hintz/ESPN.comAFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky spent 25 minutes in a hyperbaric chamber to get an idea of what Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is experiencing as he cares for his injured ankle.
MIAMI -- If you put me side by side with Dwight Freeney, I’m not going to win in many categories.

For a day, however, I’ll give you the one where I trumped him: Hyperbaric chambers.

As part of the rehabilitation of his sprained right ankle, the Colts' defensive end spends time in a hyperbaric chamber, where increased air pressure increases the oxygen in his system and can help speed recovery.

What better participatory journalism piece this week than to test it out? With the help of ESPN resident physical therapist Stephania Bell and the fine folks at University of Miami Hospital, I spent 25 minutes breathing 100 percent oxygen at two times normal atmospheric pressure.

If I did it more, maybe 90 minutes 10 different times, I might feel younger and my metabolism would speed up, my experts said. Growing a full head of hair would be much less likely.

[+] EnlargePaul Kuharsky and Angelina Meza-Suarez
Sean Hintz/ESPN.comHyperbaric coordinator Angelina Meza-Suarez looks on as Paul Kuharsky receives a treatment.
Should Freeney play and play well Sunday, he could become the hyperbaric chamber poster boy.

"I think there are definitely pro [athletes] that are using it with success," said Dr. Magaly Rodriguez, a surgeon at the hospital’s wound care center who oversaw my treatment.

But such use is “off protocol.” There are only 13 official medical uses for the chamber, to treat things such as carbon monoxide poisoning, compromised skin grafts or diabetic foot ulcers.

Though I contemplated spraining an ankle for the team and did bang my shin on a media center chair as I packed up for the hospital, I entered the chamber a healthy person. And for a healthy person, Rodriguez said time in a hyperbaric chamber can have anti-aging and body cleansing results.

Before my visit with Rodriguez and nurse/hyperbaric coordinator Angelina Meza-Suarez, I asked Freeney for details of his hyperbaric chamber use.

I thought I’d have tight space issues -- I nearly had a panic attack in a narrow staircase at Notre Dame (the Cathedral in Paris, not the school in South Bend, Ind.). Colts linebacker Gary Brackett increased my concern when he told me he didn’t do hyperbaric chambers because he’s claustrophobic.

“If you’re claustrophobic, you probably need to stay away from it,” Freeney told me. “It just kind of feels like you’re in an incubator ... I take my laptop in, just sit it up on my chest, maybe watch a little film, zone out, fall asleep, wake up, do a little Internet search. And that’s great for the circulation.”

Great, I thought, I’ll write a blog entry on my laptop inside the chamber, turn on Pandora and film the video for this piece. Distractions would help me handle it. But for the trip into the Sechrist 3200 Monoplace Chamber, I needed to be in a gown, take no metal with me and be flat on my back.

Uh-oh.


My chamber is a futuristic glass tube or canister, a coffin without corners and a great deal more circulation. Cost: $35,000 to $38,000. It’s sold only to hospitals, and a doctor must be present when it’s in use.

According to Rodriguez, the sort of zip-up, blow-up chamber Freeney’s using if he’s taking a laptop with him uses regular air, which is 21 percent oxygen, not 100 percent oxygen like I got. He’s probably at about 1.3 atmospheres worth of pressure; I was in 2, the equivalent of 34 feet below sea level.

I changed into the gown and Meza-Suarez measured my blood sugar before putting electrodes on me.

With a photographer and a videographer in tow, a claustrophobic incident would a) be highly embarrassing and b) not make for much of a story. With those fears as motivation, I took deep breaths, lay down, got a pep talk and felt the bed roll into the chamber.

Meza-Suarez closed the door behind me and I didn’t look back, because that thing looked like the door on a mini bank vault. But I calmed quickly.

Air streamed in, making the sound you may hear standing by a large vent. The one thing I was supposed to notice was the pressure in my ears, and I needed to be conscious of swallowing or yawning to pop them. But they bothered me only a little, right at the end.

[+] EnlargePaul Kuharsky and Angelina Meza-Suarez
Sean Hintz/ESPN.comWhile in the chamber, Kuharsky was able to communicate with Meza-Suarez over the phone.
Meza-Suarez talked to me via phone, checking in often. With the video camera light and the photographer hovering, I was a little self conscious. (Watching the video now, I am more so. I’m typically animated, but coming out of that tube I couldn’t have had a worse monotone performance. Or more chins.)

It got pretty cold in there, even under a thick blanket.

The tight space wasn’t an issue. There was elbow room on both sides and the top was far away from the tip of my nose. An open MRI I once had on a broken elbow was a far, far worse experience.

I could have fallen asleep, and a short nap would have come in handy. As Rodriguez and Meza-Suarez promised, I wound up feeling tired from the experience.

But if I was committing to this long term, considering I might go in a 41-year-old and come out 36, and that my metabolism could convert to that of a young Parisian modal, the yawning wouldn’t be a hassle at all.

Really.

October reasonable for Welker's return

January, 6, 2010
1/06/10
7:23
PM ET
There's a chance Wes Welker's unhinged left knee will be ready for the start of the 2010 season.

Just don't count it.


Otto Greule Jr./Getty ImagesPatriots wide receiver Wes Welker's injury will probably keep him off the field through the summer.
"If people are expecting him to get back on the field and be Wes Welker, you've got to cut him some slack," ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell said. "It's going to take him a while."

While it would take possession of Welker's medical chart to give a convincing forecast for his return, Bell believes we have enough information to hazard a guess.

She estimated the New England Patriots slot receiver could be practicing by September and looking Welkerish by October.

Bell based her prognosis on the report Welker tore his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments and is assuming no other significant tissue damage because of the non-contact nature of the injury.

In particular, she is going on the supposition Welker didn't suffer the so-called "terrible triad," which includes a meniscus tear in addition to the ACL and MCL. That would prolong the process considerably.

Bell, a physical therapist who specializes in athletes and performance artists, noted most MCL injuries can heal on their own with a leg brace for four to six weeks. After the knee regains its range of motion, then the ACL can be surgically repaired, in Welker's case by about the end of February.

How Welker plays the game will make his recovery more difficult. The last stages of recovery involve lateral movement, deceleration and the ability to cut.

"It's conceivable he could be practicing in August, but it's still a stretch," Bell said. "But because of the type of player Welker is, his strength has been the quick burst of speed and ability to change of direction.

"Unfortunately, those are the toughest things to get back after this kind of injury. Those movements are the most stressful on an ACL/MCL injury."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- I felt like I'd smuggled a spy into the New England Patriots' compound.

But we both were wearing club-issued media credentials, just a couple reporters watching Wednesday's minicamp session.

The major difference, though, was that she's a lot smarter than I am. ESPN's injury expert, Stephania Bell, sat with me in the metal bleachers above the Patriots' upper practice fields and provided running commentary of how Tom Brady looked through her trained eyes.

Bell got her first glimpse since Brady's left knee crumpled last year on opening day. What she saw exceeded her already high expectations.

"The thing that's most impressive to me is how fluid he looks, that three-step drop, his motion, transitioning from the drop to throwing across his body," said Bell, a physical therapist who specializes in athletes and performing artists. "There's no hitch. There's no halting. It's all very smooth."

While Brady and his receivers drilled in front of us, she explained why throwing to his left was significant. She pointed out that when he planted his left leg, he put significant torque and weight on his rebuilt knee.

"There's a lot of rotation going through that lower extremity," Bell said. "Your knee bears a lot of stress when you put that kind of rotation on the leg because the hip rotates easily, the ankle rotates easily, but the knee as a structure isn't meant to rotate a lot. Therefore, it's going to be placed under a lot stress.

"He didn't exhibit any ill effects from that at all. He looked very, very smooth. He's throwing in a normal way. He's throwing across his body, stepping into it, planting his leg."

If you didn't know Brady had his ACL and MCL reattached eight months ago, you wouldn't have any clue he'd been injured. Although you could tell he was wearing a knee brace under his blue sweatpants.

"I knew by reports that he was doing all these things, and the clips I saw were positive," Bell said, "but to see him in person, moving as easily as he is, throwing the ball with as little effort as he is, he's not looking any different than any other guy on the field.

"The fact that he doesn't stand out, that he's just blending in with his routine is probably the most notable thing. They're not backing away from him. Granted, he's not facing any contact, but it all looks very easy and effortless."

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

On the heels of Sunday's ESPN.com report, I'd put us at FavreCon 3 on a scale of 1-5. Not bad considering it's only the second week of June.

As you might have noticed Sunday, Chris Mortensen and Ed Werder reported that retired quarterback Brett Favre had surgery sometime last month to release a partially torn biceps tendon in his right arm. His decision to consent to surgery illustrates just how serious he is about returning to the field and playing for Minnesota in 2009.

Monday morning, Peter King of Sports Illustrated suggests: "It'll be an upset if Favre doesn't attempt a comeback with Minnesota now." I agree. To me, there are only two obstacles left:

  1. If, for some unexpected reason, a relatively routine surgery doesn't take.
  2. If, as ESPN injury consultant Stephania Bell has said, we come to find out there was more damage in the shoulder than just a tear of the biceps tendon.

As always, we'll keep you updated. For now, let's catch up on the weekend in the NFC North:

  • Asked on Friday about Favre's status with the team, Minnesota coach Brad Childress said he wasn't thinking about the issue. Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune looks back on that quote.
  • Former Vikings offensive lineman Ron Yary: "If the Vikings would have had Brett Favre during the time of my career, we would have been 7-0 in Super Bowls. Absolutely." Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press spoke with Yary.
  • Green Bay linebacker Nick Barnett is playing for his fifth defensive coordinator in seven years with the Packers, notes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Barnett: "I think I've flourished differently in each scheme I've been in. I sometimes like the challenge of learning a new defense, because I think it keeps you more focused."
  • Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson on the Lions' offense: "[O]nly time will tell. You can talk right now, but we still have to go out there and do it on Sundays. When that time comes we'll be able to go out there and show everybody what we're talking about." Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press reports.
  • Wearing a No. 6 jersey to honor Al Kaline, Lions coach Jim Schwartz threw out the first pitch Sunday at Detroit's Comerica Park, notes Monarrez.
  • Chicago defensive lineman Tommie Harris was paid a $6.67 million bonus this spring and is due another $2.5 million bonus next June, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.

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