It's time for fantasy owners to make those midweek trades to boost their fantasy rosters. Injury concerns naturally factor into those decisions, as we try to gauge who is going to miss time and just how long that absence will be. Here are some status updates as we look ahead to Week 4.
Felix Jones and Marion Barber, Dallas Cowboys: Jones officially suffered a sprained posterior cruciate ligament and, according to The Dallas Morning News, will sit out this week and might be out until Week 7. The Cowboys have a bye in Week 6, so this timetable would result in Jones' missing two games.
The reality is that it probably is too soon to predict just how much time Jones will miss. PCL sprains are tricky, and although we have not been given an indication as to the severity of the sprain, any PCL injury typically leaves the athlete with some measure of residual instability. In addition to overcoming the initial discomfort and any associated swelling, the athlete then has to develop compensatory strength to counter that instability, which is not as easy as it might sound. There is no doubt that football players are already strong and running backs are exceptionally strong in their legs. It goes beyond pure strength, however, and becomes a timing issue. In other words, the muscles now have to better anticipate sudden stops and starts and directional movements in an effort to minimize shearing at the knee joint. Reggie Bush suffered this injury two years ago, and although he returned to play, he was not able to perform in the same way. After he aggravated the injury, his season ultimately ended early. No two injuries are identical, so there is no guarantee Jones will suffer the same fate, but the fact that Jones has suffered two other major injuries (hamstring, toe) on the same side (left) in the past year is of concern. It is important to recognize that this is a challenging injury and the timetable for Jones might need to be extended.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys' No. 1 back still is working to make his way back into the lineup after suffering a strained quadriceps in Week 2. Barber was held out of Week 3 against his wishes but in favor of his long-term health. The Morning News reports Barber did practice Wednesday and was able to do more than last week, leading coach Wade Phillips to be optimistic about his chances for Sunday. Barber will have to continue to increase his activity in practice throughout the week and show that he does not feel worse the next day in order to play. Team owner Jerry Jones told ESPNDallas.com on Thursday that Barber should play Sunday. Jones acknowledged, however, that how Barber performs in full practice with pads ultimately will be the deciding factor. Given that Barber will be just approaching full speed even if he does play this week, fantasy owners should expect Tashard Choice to continue to play a big role in Sunday's contest.
Willie Parker, Pittsburgh Steelers: A hamstring strain in the preseason resulted in a slow start for Parker, but when he finally was able to open it up in Week 3, he developed a new ailment, turf toe. Fantasy owners have seen what turf toe can do to even the best running backs (read: LaDainian Tomlinson, 2008). There is quite a degree of variability in terms of severity, however, so is not a given that this will be problematic for Parker all season.
In terms of his status for Week 4, Parker has indicated he believes he will play. Parker did not practice early in the week, which is part of the usual course of treatment for this condition. If Parker is not able to practice by Friday, however, his chances of playing Sunday will be far less certain. Teammate Rashard Mendenhall, who was benched last week by coach Mike Tomlin, is eager to prove himself. He might get plenty of opportunity to do just that. It would not be surprising for the Steelers to shift the workload in his direction, given the issue with Parker's toe. Parker's fantasy owners should make alternate plans.
LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers: Tomlinson missed weeks 2 and 3 because of a sprained ankle. He made it clear he would not return until he could perform at 100 percent, so his full participation in Wednesday's practice could be taken as an encouraging sign. The San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting that Tomlinson says he feels pretty good, adding, "I want to play in this game." After suffering through several injuries in the past two years, even Tomlinson knows his status will depend on how his ankle responds to the increased stress of practice during the week.
If Tomlinson is ready to play, he will. Yes, the Chargers have a bye in Week 5, but that does not mean they will automatically sit him. If Tomlinson can contribute at a high level without significant concern of reinjury, expect him to suit up. There is the possibility, though, that the Chargers will opt to make his status a game-time decision, and with the game coming Sunday night, that is not a great situation for fantasy owners. Friday's injury report should provide a better clue as to which way the team is leaning.
Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins: Despite bone spurs in both ankles that limited his practice last week, Portis did manage to play Sunday but left the game early with a calf injury. All indications are that this latest setback is minor, and although Portis did not practice Wednesday, he reminded The Washington Post that he knows how to play without practicing. Portis also told the Post that although his ankle pain bothered him in the first two weeks of the season, the "new program" he's been on is great, adding, "Right now, my ankles don't have any pain." Good news for Portis owners, as he expects to play this week.
Mike Bell, New Orleans Saints: Bell did not practice Wednesday, and his status for Sunday appears to be in doubt. After all, we saw how challenging it was for Thomas to get back. We also saw how the wait for Thomas paid off. He racked up 126 yards and two scores in his first appearance following a similar injury. If Bell manages to practice late in the week, there might still be a chance for him to play. But if he is limited, the Saints will not take any chances and will allow him to rest for two more weeks (the Saints have a bye in Week 5) before returning to action.
Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks: Hasselbeck suffered a broken rib in the Seahawks' Week 2 loss to the San Francisco 49ers and sat out Week 3. Hasselbeck is still having pain when taking a deep breath, meaning he can't run, as in away from the opponent. The Seahawks' Web site reports coach Jim Mora already has indicated he does not expect Hasselbeck to play in Week 4. Even though Mora previously has said Hasselbeck does not need to practice fully in order to play Sunday, he does need to be able to perform some basics to ensure he's not at risk by playing. Once Hasselbeck is able to do some running, it will provide a clue that he could be returning soon.
Wes Welker, New England Patriots: Welker has sat on the sidelines for the past two weeks with a "knee" ailment (according to the official injury report) that no one is discussing. We know Welker suffered an injury in the preseason but was able to play -- and play well -- in the season opener. Clearly, he suffered a setback, because he has not been able to do much of anything in the past two weeks. Welker did do some limited work Wednesday, but his status for Sunday is iffy at this point. Welker relies on speed, so there is likely some impairment that is affecting his ability to go full out. Fantasy owners might be disappointed that he has not been available, but the good news is that given that he already has suffered a setback, he is not likely to return to action before he can effectively contribute. Stay tuned for practice updates before Sunday.
Individual defensive players
Dwight Freeney, DE, Indianapolis Colts: Freeney suffered a strained quadriceps muscle, and although he's on the other side of the ball, his injury is not unlike the one Cowboys running back Marion Barber is dealing with. Freeney has not ruled himself out for Week 4, although reports suggest he will miss two to three weeks. Like Barber, Freeney needs the strength of his quadriceps not only to be explosive in the rush, but also to dig in and counter the block of an offensive lineman. His optimism is admirable, but fantasy owners should proactively make alternate plans for this week.
Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers: Polamalu has been sidelined since the season opener with a sprained medial collateral ligament. The Steelers' defense clearly has missed him, as have his fantasy owners. Polamalu took a big step this week by adding running back into his workouts and told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he "felt well" and would like to play this week if he's able. Polamalu still has some significant tests to pass to prove he is ready to go, and it might well be another week, but fantasy owners should be aware that his return does not appear to be far off.
Be sure to check back Saturday for post-Friday NFL injury report updates on all your fantasy players heading into the weekend.
See you on the injury chats (Tuesday and Friday 11 a.m.-noon ET, and Sunday 10-10:30 a.m. ET). And check out "Fantasy Football Now" on Sundays on ESPN.com from 11:30 a.m. ET to kickoff for last-minute inactives, rankings and more!