The only players fantasy owners are wondering about heading into the Thursday night game are Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Michael Turner. Jones, who has strained both hamstrings this season, put on a nice display Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Limited practice for Jones on a short week did not likely come as a surprise to most, but seeing the word "back" next to his name on the injury report may have. While the Falcons have not said much about Jones with regards to this back ailment, it's not uncommon to have low back and hamstring issues simultaneously. The large sciatic nerve in the back of the thigh is formed from nerve roots in the lumbar (low back) region (which is why herniated disks in the back often result in leg pain when the sciatic nerve is affected). That is not to suggest by any stretch that is the case here, only that it is not unusual to have overlapping back and hamstring conditions. There is no reason to expect any limitations with Jones, but until he survives the remainder of the season incident-free, it's only natural to be a little nervous. Meanwhile Turner has also been on the injury report for several weeks because of his groin but has managed to play nonetheless. He is expected to do so again Thursday night.
Not Practicing Thursday
Here is a list of players who are worth monitoring based on the fact that they are not practicing as of Thursday afternoon:
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Roethlisberger's high ankle sprain sustained a week ago is no secret, but his status for Monday night remains murky. Roethlisberger is in a walking boot and may not practice at all before Monday's game. If anyone has defied all medical logic when it comes to returning from injury, it's Roethlisberger, but this one could prove to be a huge challenge. Roethlisberger need only look at Sam Bradford's struggles over a month removed from a similar injury. (Bradford now says he feels like he's "going backwards") Bradford had difficulty stepping into his throws and was clearly hampered with his mobility in Monday night's game. If Roethlisberger is similarly limited, is it worth playing him and risking a setback besides? That will be the question the Steelers will be considering as Monday approaches. This could come down to a game-time decision.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans: Despite the fact the Texans are referring to Johnson as day-to-day with his latest hamstring injury, all the signals out of Texas suggest he will not return to action this week. Johnson has resumed some running but is not practicing with the team. After he sustained his second hamstring injury of the season (and with the Texans having earned a playoff berth), the team is bound to exercise caution.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants: Last week Bradshaw did not practice Wednesday or Thursday but still suited up for Sunday. Of course, fantasy owners weren't expecting him to be benched for the first half of the game for violating team rules, but one has to imagine that won't happen twice in a row. Bradshaw should return to some form of practice Friday and play on Sunday against the Washington Redskins.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders: We summed up the latest discourse regarding <a href="http://espn.go.com/fantasy/blog/_/name/bell_stephania/id/7350107/demarco-murray-greg-jennings-likely-done-year-ben-roethlisberger-darren-mcfadden-iffy-return"McFadden's midfoot injury Tuesday and nothing has really changed. He is not practicing and there is no timetable on his return. It's worth noting that Taiwan Jones also remains out with a hamstring injury. The Raiders have to be crossing their fingers on Michael Bush staying healthy.
Jacoby Ford, WR, Oakland Raiders: Like his running back brethren, Ford has not yet returned to practice as he recovers from a foot injury.
James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers: Starks attempted to work out Tuesday but according to the Green Bay Post-Gazette, his ankle did not respond well. Starks did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and is not looking likely to play Sunday. Brandon Saine remains out of practice as well following a concussion sustained in Week 14. Ryan Grant is likely to get the bulk of the work.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints: Ingram's turf toe kept him out of last week's game and he did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. At this point, it appears Chris Ivory will make another appearance for the Saints alongside Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles.
Nate Washington, WR, Tennessee Titans: Washington was clearly in pain near the end of Sunday's game but he fought through it to deliver some nice playoff points for fantasy owners. Washington had been dealing with a sprained ankle, which kept him out of practice the entire week. According to the Titans' website, Washington had back spasms to go along with his balky ankle. It shouldn't come as any surprise then that Washington has not yet practiced to allow him some recovery time. Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reported Washington is expected to return to practice Friday. If Washington does play, it looks as if he might have Matt Hasselbeck to throw him the ball. Hasselbeck, who left last Sunday's game early after feeling a "pop" in his calf, returned to limited practice Thursday and the team is encouraged.
Here is a list of several key fantasy players who were back in the mix by Thursday.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Peterson seems to have turned a corner with regards to his ankle health. He has been in practice both Wednesday and Thursday and, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave noted Peterson was cutting better, even answering in the affirmative when asked if he was confident Peterson would play. Last week, Peterson had initiated running but still exhibited a limp and struggled with cutting maneuvers. The Vikings wisely gave him an additional week off (he has now missed three games) and it appears the time has helped. Barring a setback, Peterson looks to be making his return in Week 15.
Michael Vick, QB, and Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: Vick returned to action in Week 14, but his ribs are still sore. Since he is still on the mend, the Eagles did not have him practice Wednesday, but he returned to a full workout Thursday. The good news is the Eagles expect him to start; the not-so-good news is that the Eagles face the New York Jets this weekend. The Jets will have to account for Jeremy Maclin at the receiver position, as he is also expected to play despite not being able to finish last week's game. Maclin, who had missed the previous three games with both a hamstring strain and a shoulder separation, had only one catch in the game and was clearly at less than full strength. Maclin had a limited practice Wednesday followed by a full practice Thursday. As long as there are no setbacks between now and Sunday, Maclin will play. The big question for fantasy owners is whether he can deliver a full 60 minutes or whether the hamstring will act up again.
Kevin Smith, RB, Detroit Lions: Smith made an early exit from the Week 13 game after aggravating his high ankle sprain and was not able to make it back for last Sunday's contest. This week, Smith has taken an encouraging step in returning to practice Thursday, albeit on a limited basis. If all continues well, the Lions plan to have him on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how the workload shapes up since Smith will still not likely be at full health.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints: Graham fought through back spasms last Sunday but still managed to be productive. More importantly, Graham returned to full practice Wednesday and has all but assured his fantasy owners that he will be back in Week 15.
See you at the injury chat Friday at 11 a.m. and we'll have the latest injury updates affecting Week 15 in the Saturday morning blog!