Stephania Bell: Carnell Williams

Bush and Portis are game-time decisions

November, 22, 2008
11/22/08
4:31
PM ET
Just when fantasy owners are coming up on their playoffs, it's the time of the season when NFL teams start thinking about their playoffs. And then they start resting their players to save them for the postseason -- shame on them. Fortunately, there are still some tight playoff races around the league, so we won't see too much of that happening just yet. So who will play this weekend? Here's what we know as we head into the Week 12 contests.

[+] EnlargeClinton Portis
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesClinton Portis owners' are getting used to his game-time status lately.
Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins: Portis is listed as questionable, and his status remains a game-time decision for Sunday. Wait, isn't this what we were saying a week ago? Actually, it's exactly what we were saying when the Redskins were preparing to face the Cowboys. And, much to our collective surprise, Portis played. He didn't emerge any worse from that contest, or so he says, so why the questions about his status a week later?

Well, even though Portis played in Week 11 despite reporting a Grade 2 medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury, he was not Portis-like. In fact, he sat out the majority of the second half. Portis himself said he lacked burst and explosiveness and had difficulty shedding tackles. Portis said he would focus on those things this week and, according to the Washington Post, said, "No ifs, ands, buts about it, I'll be playing."

But then there's the matter of practicing what you preach. Portis didn't practice all week, doing only limited work Friday. Coach Jim Zorn didn't appear quite ready to hand Portis the reins, saying only that Portis would need to work out before the game Sunday and prove that he was ready to play. In fact, Zorn seemed to retreat a bit from Portis' assurance that he would play, telling the Post that Portis was still not at full speed and that as much as he would love for Portis to play, Zorn would need to see Portis go at game time.

Given that Portis did play last week, it's hard to imagine him a week later at least somewhat healthier and still sitting on the sideline. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, he is playing in a late game, so the information about his status will come late in the afternoon. Ladell Betts is listed as probable and is expected to play, despite the fact that he himself practiced on a limited basis this week because of his knee, which was aggravated during Sunday night's matchup. It will likely be a mixture of Betts and Portis on the field, but it remains to be seen how their time will be distributed. When Portis plays, the Redskins' tendency has been to feature him, even when they say (as they did before last week's contest) that they plan to limit his use. If you can afford to wait until game time to set your lineup, that may be the best plan.

Reggie Bush, RB, Saints: Bush is listed as questionable for the Saints' Monday night game and we likely won't have confirmation of his status until just before kickoff. It seems as if the team is hopeful that Bush will be able to play on Monday, which would mark a five week return after surgery to address a torn meniscus.

Bush tore the meniscus in his left knee in Week 7 and did not make the trip to London with his teammates so that he could stay behind for surgery. This knee is the same one in which he suffered a partial tear of his posterior cruciate ligament last year, an injury that forced an early end to his 2007 season. Given his injury history, the initial projected timetable for Bush of two to four weeks seemed a bit ambitious. Most meniscal procedures require closer to four weeks of recovery, and there is the issue of Bush already having had some trauma to that knee. Even a small amount of instability in his knee requires that Bush compensate for that deficit with improved quad and hamstring strength as well as excellent directional control, especially given his style of frequent lateral running and cutting. Therefore, it came as no surprise last week that the Saints opted to hold Bush out a little longer to have him continue to focus on the high-level skills that would prepare him to return to play.



Bush himself said earlier this week that with the extra day going into this game, he felt confident that he had enough time to do "all the things necessary" to help him be 100 percent for Monday. According to Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Bush even looked better this week as compared to last, running more fluid routes in practice. But the fact remains that Bush saw only limited action in practice throughout the week. Bush did not practice Friday but this was apparently a planned rest day since the Saints have an extra day before their game. He did some work Saturday, but again was limited.



The questionable tag is appearing more questionable than it did just 24 hours ago. The fact that Bush has not yet seen a full practice is of some concern. Nonetheless, I still think there is a chance that Bush is active, barring some episode of swelling or other such last-minute setbacks. Even if he does suit up, expect the Saints to control his playing time, perhaps choosing not to have him return kicks straight out of the gate, and limiting his overall number of touches. It appears a risky play from a fantasy perspective because there is no way of knowing in advance of Monday night whether Bush will play, and how much time he sees.

Other noteworthy items

[+] EnlargeBrian Westbrook
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesWestbrook is facing a tough defense and is far less than 100 percent.
• All is not well with Brian Westbrook. He is officially listed as questionable because of his knee and his ankle, and -- you guessed it -- he is a game-time decision. This is not the same scenario of a Westbrook who rests during the week, then shows up Sunday and changes the entire Philly offense. This is an ailing Westbrook: His yards per carry has decreased in recent weeks, and he is dealing with not only a swollen knee (which he has managed for years), but also the lingering effects of an ankle sprain back in Week 3 (which looked as close to a high ankle sprain as it gets). Westbrook told the Philadelphia Inquirer that his ankle feels healthy enough to play each week but then gets "reinjured" during the game. He acknowledges that it limits him by affecting his ability to cut and avoid tackles. For his part, coach Andy Reid limits Westbrook's practice time when the team practices inside on the turf to try to minimize the stress on his joints. Despite the fact that the Eagles face a tough Baltimore run defense, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, Reid says that if Westbrook can go, he will play. In other words, this is not going to be a planned rest day for him. Reid also said, however, that he will call on Correll Buckhalter to do more Sunday. So here's your dilemma, fantasy owners: Westbrook may be active and yet may play very little. The game is early, so the best bet is to wait until game time to see whether Westbrook is even playing. But something tells me that this is the time to rest him, and that even if he sees the field, he will see a lot less of it this week than usual.

Brandon Jacobs seems to have recovered nicely from the minor injury to his knee that forced him to leave last week's game early. After an MRI early in the week came back negative, Jacobs minimized the injury and said that he was feeling good. By the end of the week he had practiced fully and insisted that he had no pain and was ready to play. But will he play? Jacobs is listed as probable and therefore is almost certain to start. But you have to wonder how long the Giants will leave him in the game when they certainly don't want to risk any major setback and can be secure in their backfield depth in Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw. After all, Jacobs suffered an MCL sprain that kept him out for three weeks last year. When he said initially that this injury was similar to last year's (although he said he knew right away it was not as serious), the Giants had to be holding their collective breath until the test results came back negative. Fantasy owners can take a chance here. Jacobs is indeed expected to start. But I don't see him playing much, if at all, in the second half, especially if the Giants are faring well. Then again, he can rack up some nice first-half numbers. Let's put it this way: His knee will not be limiting him heading into Sunday.

• Fellow Giant Plaxico Burress was a midweek addition to the injury report with a hamstring strain. He did not practice Thursday or Friday, is listed as questionable, and really is one of those 50-50 designations to play. The Giants will have him warm up before the game and see how his leg feels running routes. Burress seemed very cautious when discussing his leg injury throughout the week, so even if he is active, it doesn't appear he will be 100 percent.

Tony Romo (pinkie) and Jason Witten (ribs) are both listed as probable, and you know they're playing. You should also know that both are feeling better, and Witten in particular should have better numbers this week.

Matt Jones went through a full practice Friday, is listed as probable and is expected to play. Jones sat out last week with a bruised thigh and was limited in the early part of this week. The Jaguars want him back in their offensive lineup, though, because he has been their top receiver so far this year.

Kellen Winslow is listed as questionable for the Browns this weekend after suffering what the team called a shoulder sprain Monday night. If anyone can tough it out through an injury in this league, it's Winslow, and this week should be no different. The fact that he returned to practice Friday improves his chances of playing.

Derrick Mason played pretty well for having only one good wing last week. Nonetheless, the challenges of his injured left shoulder became apparent when he could not bring both arms overhead to catch what would have been a touchdown pass. Mason did not practice Wednesday because of soreness in the shoulder and was limited Thursday and Friday. He is listed as questionable, and his status will not come down until just before the game, but given that he managed to tough it out last week, you can probably expect the same Sunday.

[+] EnlargeCarnell Williams
Paul Jasienski/Getty ImagesWill the engine get started this week for Cadillac?
• The potential return of Carnell Williams has created much anticipation. Williams is expected to see his first game action this week. Well, he was expected to, based on the hints coach Jon Gruden was tossing out all week, but surprisingly, he was an addition to the Friday injury report because of a hamstring problem. Williams has been out for 14 months recovering from a torn patellar tendon. He has made great strides -- so great, in fact, that the Buccaneers activated him from the physically unable to perform list and made room for him on the active roster. It seemed perfect timing to have him available Sunday with the loss of Earnest Graham to a season-ending ankle injury last week. Williams is listed as questionable, and it may come down to a game-time decision, but you can bet that if anything could compromise his recent tendon repair, the team will play it safe and sit him. Warrick Dunn is expected to remain the starter in Tampa.

Out: This is a list of key fantasy players, not including those who have been moved to injured reserve status, who are officially listed as additions to the "Out" listing for Week 12.

Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: The Rams decided to make it easy on fantasy owners, and Jackson himself, by making this announcement early in the week. There's still no telling when Jackson is expected to return from his lingering quadriceps strain. Antonio Pittman gets the start again for the Rams.

Matt Schaub, QB, Texans: Early in the week, Texans coach Gary Kubiak hinted that Schaub could miss up to another month with his slow-healing MCL sprain. For fantasy purposes, it is probably worth dropping him to secure a playoff replacement.

Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys: This week the Cowboys announced that although Jones' hamstring had recovered, during his rehab workouts he sustained a torn ligament at the base of his big toe that will require surgery, officially ending his season. It's a bummer for the rookie who had such a bright start to his year. Something about switching from the field at Arkansas to the pros has an effect on big toes; the Raiders' Darren McFadden and Jones will both have missed playing time as a result of their respective toe injuries.

Marty Booker, WR, Bears: Booker has a knee ailment that will sideline him this week. Brandon Lloyd, who has not been much of a factor since spraining his posterior cruciate ligament early in the season, is listed as probable (now with a calf strain) and should play. With Booker out, Lloyd should see some more targets this week.

Arnaz Battle, WR, and Josh Morgan, WR, 49ers: Not only is Battle still battling his foot injury, but now we also are hearing that Morgan is not expected back anytime soon because his groin injury is fairly severe. In fact, the Sacramento Bee reports that offensive coordinator Mike Martz said of Morgan's injury: "That was a pretty significant injury. I'm not sure we're going to get him back in the near future." Look for Bryant Johnson, who is now healthy (and who was a factor in the 49ers' receiving corps early in the season), to see some extra balls thrown his way.

Good luck in Week 12! Be sure to check out our site Sunday for pregame chats and Fantasy Football Now at noon ET.

Orton looking like a go

November, 15, 2008
11/15/08
2:39
PM ET
Uh-oh, it's fantasy crunch time. Playoff scenarios are starting to shape up, and victories in the next couple weeks are critical if you're on the bubble. Every player in your lineup has a crucial contribution to make to help you jockey for position in those divisional playoffs. You certainly don't want to accidentally leave in somebody who is going to be a gameday scratch, but there are a lot of question marks on the Friday NFL injury report.

So who will play this weekend? Here's what we know as we head into the Week 11 contests.

Kyle Orton, QB, Bears: What a difference a week makes. Orton has all of a sudden risen to a "probable" designation and by all accounts appears ready to take the field as the starter for the Bears on Sunday. Orton's injured right ankle has been faring better, and although it is still wrapped for support and he is not yet 100 percent recovered, he is doing just about everything in practice to convince his teammates and coaches that he is ready to play.

Initially, Orton's injury was reported as a high ankle sprain, and it certainly appeared at first that he would miss more time. But all sprains are not created equal, and Orton is certainly proving that with his speedy recovery. Coach Lovie Smith told the Chicago Sun-Times that Orton has "gotten better each day [and] there's no reason to think that won't continue [through] Sunday." His biggest challenges will be rolling right on the still-tender right ankle, and the unavoidable tangles that he is destined to be a part of during a game. If he can handle those obstacles, there's no reason to think that he cannot be essentially healthy going forward.

[+] EnlargeClinton Portis
Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesFantasy owners need to look for someone other than Portis to help them this week.
Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins:

Portis is listed as questionable, and his status remains a game-time decision for Sunday night. It's really not looking good for Portis, especially when you consider the nature and severity of the injury (grade 2 MCL sprain), his limitations this week (he could not fully bend or extend his knee at the start of the week), and his inability to practice through Friday. That being said, Portis was earnestly doing everything he could from a treatment perspective, and coach Jim Zorn wanted to see how he would fare in the Saturday walkthrough.

From a fantasy perspective, despite how outstanding Portis has been this year, look elsewhere for your running back this week. Even if he does play, which would come as a surprise, Zorn has already indicated that he would only use Portis in a limited capacity. Ladell Betts (probable) is hopeful to return after missing several weeks himself with a knee sprain, and beyond Betts, Shaun Alexander and Rock Cartwright are available for the Redskins to sprinkle into their running back mix. Assume that Portis will take a while longer to get his knee fully healthy before he can perform up to the high standard he has set this year.

Other noteworthy items


Tony Romo (probable) is expected to start for the Cowboys. Romo is returning after a four-week absence due to a broken pinkie in his throwing hand. His only discomfort remains with taking snaps under center, but according to coach Wade Phillips, Romo has been throwing well in practice. The Cowboys have to be excited about their deep-ball option returning to the game plan this week. And Romo has to be excited that he will be able to throw to his buddy Jason Witten, who is expected to return to the field this week despite a still-healing broken rib. Witten may not feel quite 100 percent, but he has been able to practice on a limited basis, and with some extra rib padding for insurance, along with his rep as the toughest guy on the field, he provides a boost for his team.

• Wide receiver Matt Jones has a potential suspension looming over him, but that won't be what keeps him off the field this week. If Jones can't suit up for the Jaguars on Sunday, it will be because of a thigh injury that has kept him out of practice most of this week. If Jones is on your team, it's probably best to secure a backup given that the Jags have a late game, and even if Jones plays, he is not expected to be at full strength.

• "Fast" Willie Parker is off the injury report and will be on the field for the Steelers on Sunday. Sure, he may be in a harness to protect his shoulder, but that should not interfere with his function as a running back. He is bound to experience some soreness if he takes hits to the shoulder, from a defender or the ground, but more important for Parker is that his knee appears healthy and he's running well. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is also off the injury report, so expect him at least to start for the Steelers. If he experiences another late game decline however, don't expect Tomlin to hesitate to pull the switch and insert Byron Leftwich.

• Ravens receiver Derrick Mason injured his shoulder during last Sunday's game. On Monday we talked about how soreness and swelling is often worse in the first few days post-injury and how Mason's practice activity would go a long way to indicate what his chances of playing this week really are. Well, Mason did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and did only a limited amount Friday. He is wearing a harness to protect his left shoulder but coach John Harbaugh was noncommittal regarding Mason's availability, telling the Carroll County Times, "We'll see how he is on Sunday." Hmmm. A less than fully healthy Mason who is a game-time decision versus a tough opponent? You may want to consider another fantasy option.

• Raiders' quarterback JaMarcus Russell was able to move around much better in practice this week. Russell has been contending with a bone bruise in his knee along with tendinitis. Although listed as questionable, he is expected to play. Meanwhile, running back Darren McFadden had quite an improvement in his status this week. His tag remains "questionable," but if you take into account that McFadden was able to practice all week -- albeit on a limited basis -- and that he is feeling more comfortable and confident in his new shoes, his chances of playing Sunday look much better. According to the Contra Costa Times, McFadden has been running and cutting without pain and has tossed his protective boot. McFadden even went so far as to say that he had "a different pep" in practice. It's unclear how much playing time he'll see, but expect him to be out there.

• The Seahawks will enjoy the return of their signal-caller, Matt Hasselbeck, who has been disabled by weakness in his leg as a result of sciatic nerve compression linked to a bulging disc. Pain was never the issue for Hasselbeck, weakness was, but gradually the nerve function, and thus his muscle strength, has improved. Hasselbeck was able to practice all week, is listed as probable, and is expected to start. Joining him on the field will be Deion Branch, who after making an impressive return from ACL reconstruction was almost immediately sidelined again, this time with a bruised heel on his opposite leg. Branch has finally been able to get back on the practice field. He, too, is listed as probable but is expected to play. Expect both to be a little rusty, but nonetheless welcome additions to an otherwise anemic offense.

• In Tampa, there is much excitement about the return of Carnell Williams to the roster after missing nearly a year with a torn patellar tendon, but don't expect him to see much, if any, playing time just yet. The Bucs will be cautious with Williams after such a severe injury; his first contact drills took place just this week. But Earnest Graham is still ailing with a sprained knee suffered before the bye week, and Warrick Dunn, although able to practice all week, is just returning from a pinched nerve in his upper back. Graham is listed as questionable and may play, but in a limited capacity. Dun is listed as questionable but based on his ability to practice, looks to be the more sure bet to go. The idea that Williams can contribute soon has to make coach Jon Gruden happy. For fantasy purposes though, don't count on Williams or Graham this week, but do expect Dunn to get the start and get the bulk of the work.

• Ten players listed as questionable this week? The Colts made liberal use of the designation in Friday's injury report but have strongly hinted that two of the key fantasy players on that list, Anthony Gonzalez and Reggie Wayne, are likely to suit up Sunday. Gonzalez had a hamstring strain that kept him limited in practice this week, but it is reportedly minor. Wayne had an ankle ailment that was bothering him, and after recently tweaking his knee, the Colts were no doubt trying to preserve his overall health by limiting his practice reps early on. Both Gonzalez and Wayne went through full practice Friday, so it does appear that they will be available for Sunday's matchup against the Texans.

Out: This is a list of key fantasy players, not including those who have been moved to injured reserve status, who are officially listed as additions to the "Out" listing for Week 11.

Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: Jackson's thigh is not healing as fast as anyone would like, including Jackson himself, who stayed behind while his teammates traveled to San Francisco so that he can confer with a specialist. Jackson ran fairly well in practice Wednesday but was then unable to do anything the remainder of the week because of persistent stiffness and soreness in his thigh. Antonio Pittman gets the start again for the Rams.

Matt Schaub, QB, Texans: Schaub will miss another week, at least, with his sprained knee (MCL), and Rosenfels will again start in his place.

Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys: The Cowboys were hoping to get Jones back from a hamstring injury after the bye week along with teammates Romo and Witten. The nature of Jones' particular injury, though (distal hamstring, near the knee), makes it a tough one to heal, and a little extra recovery time is not unexpected.

Heath Miller, TE, Steelers: Miller is still sidelined with a high ankle sprain. Matt Spaeth continues to start in his place.

Reggie Bush, RB, Saints: Despite doing some limited work in practice Wednesday, Bush did not practice later in the week, and coach Sean Payton decided to hold him back. No reason to hurry back from meniscal surgery, especially given that this is the same knee in which Bush suffered a sprained posterior cruciate ligament just last year. His return will likely take place when the Saints host Monday Night Football in Week 12.

Arnaz Battle, WR, and Josh Morgan, WR, 49ers: Battle remains out with a foot sprain and is joined this week by Morgan, who has a groin injury. Jason Hill, who showed that he could connect with Shaun Hill, is an interesting receiver option.

Javon Walker, WR, Raiders: Yet another injury ends Walker's season early. This time it's his ankle, and he's already undergone surgery to implant some hardware in his injured leg. What will his future hold? That has yet to be determined, but this latest setback doesn't help.

Good luck in Week 11! Be sure to check out our site Sunday for pregame chats and Fantasy Football Now at noon ET.

Portis looking unlikely to play

November, 12, 2008
11/12/08
2:31
PM ET


Tatum Bell has packed his bags and headed off to Denver to help fill a gap in the Broncos' injury-depleted backfield. Will this partnership be better the second time around? Larry Johnson will be active for the Chiefs this week, and just in time, as the ankle problem ailing Jamaal Charles has him questionable for Sunday. Warrick Dunn is feeling better, and the Buccaneers have to be happy about that, since Earnest Graham's knee sprain may keep him sidelined this week.

Games of musical chairs are being played at running back everywhere around the league. Who else will be stepping into or out of your fantasy rotation this week? Based on early practice reports, here's what we're hearing on the injury front so far:

Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins: Portis has a grade 2 medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain that could sideline him this week, according to the Washington Post. We all know that Portis has been taking his share of hits with his big workload so far this year and has proved extremely resilient, but a grade 2 MCL sprain is a compromising injury for a running back.

The Post reports that Portis said on John Thompson's radio show that he was having more pain in his knee late last week, which led to further evaluation and the ultimate diagnosis. Portis also stated that as of Tuesday he was just starting to bend his knee and could not fully straighten it, either. This is not unusual for an MCL injury, as some of the ligament fibers are stretched when the knee is bent and others are stretched when the knee is extended. As the ligament is trying to heal, it is important not to overstretch those fibers, so initially the knee is restricted from the extremes of the range of motion.

If Portis was still lacking range of motion Tuesday, it's almost impossible to imagine that he could regain full motion and have enough strength and stability to perform in a game. Remember Willie Parker just returned (against the Redskins, in fact) after missing about a month with a similar injury. LaDainian Tomlinson tried to play in the 2007 AFC Championship game but lasted only a few plays because of a grade 2 MCL injury. Running backs' rapid directional changes stress the MCL significantly, and pain or a sense of instability will render them far less effective. This injury typically requires a few weeks of recovery, but a grade 2 (moderate) sprain represents a big range in terms of the extent of damage to the tissue -- the time frame for recovery is not automatic. If Portis is able to participate in practice late in the week, it bodes well for an earlier recovery, but even then, it would be a big surprise to see him in the lineup Sunday.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonRomo makes his return to the Dallas lineup this week.
Tony Romo, QB, and Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys: The Cowboys are excited that Romo is back under center this week -- right on time, based on projections made after Romo first broke the little finger on his throwing hand. According to the Cowboys' official Web site, Romo returned to practice Monday and is throwing with "more zip on the ball," coach Wade Phillips said. Everything is pointing toward Romo's practicing all week and starting Sunday. He'll likely be a bit rusty after missing a month, but his finger should be on its way to being well healed. It was a wise decision for the Cowboys to allow Romo to rest and let his finger heal properly, ensuring less risk of complications for his throwing hand down the road. It will be a tough contest against the Redskins, but you can count on Romo's throwing the ball plenty.

The Cowboys' running game, however, may still be without the services of Felix Jones. Jones missed practice Monday, as he is still recovering from his hamstring injury. Missing the first day of practice after a bye week is not a good sign, but the first news of Jones' injury (that it was located closer to the knee) suggested that it could take longer to heal fully. For his part, Jones told the Cowboys' official Web site that he is very close to ready and hopes to return to practice Wednesday and play Sunday. He was able to run full speed last week but has worked solely on the side so far. If Jones demonstrates that he can go full speed in practice toward the latter part of the week, then he has a chance to play. That play, however, is likely to be limited, as the team is likely to ease him back so as not to risk re-injury. Fantasy owners should have a backup in place, though -- you know how finicky these muscle strains can be, especially as an athlete pushes himself toward full gear.

Tight end Jason Witten returned to practice Monday and is feeling better. Expect him back in the lineup Sunday, probably with some extra cushion around his still-healing rib, as he's a favorite Romo target.

Some other players to keep an eye on as the week progresses:

• The Broncos have added Tatum Bell to their roster. Bell and fullback Peyton Hillis are basically the only backs left standing. Selvin Young aggravated his groin injury in the Thursday night game and is unlikely to be available for a while. Meanwhile, tight end Tony Scheffler showed that he could play, but he was clearly still hurting. Hopefully the longer stretch between games this week will help him.

[+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck
Rich Kane/US PresswireHasselbeck's return should help the Seattle offense immensely.
• Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and receiver Deion Branch could both be back in the lineup this week. The Seattle Times reports that coach Mike Holmgren is "cautiously optimistic" that they will be ready. Hasselbeck has regained strength in his leg, which allowed him to return to practice. Given the extent of his time off and the fact that he may not be at full strength (or in game shape), temper any expectations about what Hasselbeck can deliver. Meanwhile, Branch has recently been dealing with a painful bruised heel, which, along with a still-recovering ACL-reconstructed knee on the other side, has kept him out of the lineup for most of the season. As ESPN's John Clayton points out, though, the Seahawks have just released receiver Keary Colbert, a sign that Holmgren's optimism about Branch's return is well-founded. By Friday we should have a better indication as to what both players can do, but it's looking promising.

• Over in Pittsburgh, coach Mike Tomlin has taken a slightly different approach this week when it comes to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tomlin wants to see Roethlisberger practice more early in the week before he commits to him as the Sunday starter. Roethlisberger, who suffered an acromioclavicular joint sprain in the season opener, has been nagged by the shoulder throughout the season, a condition that has not been helped by being knocked down and sacked. The trend has been for Roethlisberger to rest his arm to varying degrees during the week, practice some Friday then play Sunday. The trend has also been that Roethlisberger's performance declines as the game goes on, especially in the fourth quarter. There are likely multiple reasons for this, including some poor decision-making on Roethlisberger's part, which he openly acknowledges. But it is also probable that his shoulder plays a role in his ineffectiveness late in the game. As he takes a beating over the 60-minute contest, any pain or swelling that he incurs in the shoulder will make it more difficult for the muscles around the shoulder to function properly. This will in turn affect his throwing, limiting both his distance and his accuracy. Perhaps Tomlin's notion of seeing Roethlisberger in practice more is not a bad one from an injury perspective, in that if he is fatiguing in practice, it may be a good indicator that he will struggle to complete a game. And then there are all the other obvious benefits of practicing with the team throughout the week. And what about "Fast" Willie Parker? He may be wearing a harness for his injured shoulder, but he is expected to practice Wednesday and play Sunday.

• Bears quarterback Kyle Orton is determined to return to the field Sunday, but will he be able to do it? We don't know yet because the Bears will have their first practice Wednesday. Although his determination is admirable, it will really come down to functionality. Can he move effectively enough on that ankle to justify a start? This may come down to another game-time decision, but we should have a better clue by Friday. Stay tuned.

• Good early news for Steven Jackson fantasy owners. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting that Jackson was on the practice field Wednesday morning sharing first-team reps in 11-on-11 drills with teammate Antonio Pittman, who started last week in place of the injured Jackson. The fact that Jackson was running through team drills is a good sign that his quad is recovering, but it is still early. Coach Jim Haslett has made it clear that Jackson will need to go through a full practice at full speed before he is allowed to play, but this is the best start to a practice week that Jackson has had since the injury. Friday will be critical.

• Everyone is excited in Tampa Bay. Running back Carnell Williams, coming off a devastating injury (torn patellar tendon) more than a year ago, has worked extremely hard to get himself back to the playing field. Well, all that hard work has paid off. The Buccaneers have decided to activate Williams off the physically unable to perform list, and the move has come just in time. Teammate Earnest Graham is dealing with a knee sprain that will likely sideline him this week, as he has not been able to return to practice. Warrick Dunn, who missed the Bucs' last contest with a pinched nerve, has returned to practice and is hopeful that he'll play this weekend. Don't expect much from Cadillac at first; he will be brought back very gradually as his recovery is still in progress. By the time fantasy playoffs roll around, though, he could become a worthy flex player. You may want to grab him before anyone else notices.

As usual, practice throughout the week will give us a better hint as to what the final status of these players will be heading into Week 11. See you Friday at the injury chat, and we'll have the latest injury updates affecting Week 11 in the Saturday blog!

SPONSORED HEADLINES