A preseason injury outlook on fantasy-noteworthy individual defensive players. This column will be updated throughout the summer, and the latest information will appear toward the top of the column:
Brian Cushing, LB, Houston Texans: Cushing tore his left ACL in early October and had surgery to reconstruct it shortly thereafter. Like Revis, Cushing's injury happened fairly early in the season, leaving him plenty of time to rehab before the start of the following season. He has been working diligently and sounds confident about his readiness to return. Recently, Cushing told Nick Scurfield of HoustonTexans.com, "I'm basically doing everything I could be doing right now. I feel great and very confident heading into camp." He also indicated he expected his surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, to clear him for full activity prior to the start of training camp in late July. As always, the caveat for progression is no setbacks along the way, but it appears the Texans will have Cushing to start the season.
Addendum (Aug. 2): Cushing was cleared by Dr. Andrews to participate in training camp activities and by Aug. 1 was participating in seven-on-seven drills. While Cushing acknowledged he is still working his way back from the injury, he told reporters the knee is "pretty much 100 percent and full-go." This is definitely encouraging news. Barring a setback, he appears on track to start the season.
Darrelle Revis, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The 2012 season ended for Revis when he tore his left ACL on a non-contact play in late September. The only silver lining was that it was early enough in the season to allow him to potentially begin the 2013 season on time. It appears he will do just that, albeit in a different location. Revis, now with the Buccaneers, has progressed through a rehab and running program, adding cutting and directional change moves in late May. He expects to be a participant in training camp, but we can expect the Bucs will take it slowly with him, right on up to Week 1. It's often the case that players take at least a portion of the first year back following ACL reconstruction to return to their prior form, and Revis may be no different; re-establishing the coordinates of Revis Island may take some time. Barring a setback, however, it does appear Revis will be on the field to start the season.
Ed Reed, S, Texans: The 34-year-old safety and longtime defensive leader of the Baltimore Ravens has undergone some offseason actions. He has moved southward to join a new team in Houston and he underwent surgery in Colorado in late April to address a small labral tear in his hip. All indications are that he is progressing nicely, but neither he nor the team will commit to him being on the field to start the season. When Reed joined his ex-teammates for a Super Bowl victory White House visit, Reed told the Baltimore Ravens' official website he was aiming for Week 1 but understood the priority. "I'm going to be smart about my injuries and make sure I'm there for the later part of the season when the team really needs me," Reed said. He knows a thing or two about rehabbing his hip, having undergone more extensive surgery to the same side three years ago. Reed did not start the 2010 season on time, instead beginning on the PUP list, but the surgery was more complex (he described it as "reconstructing" his hip, suggesting bony resurfacing of the joint). While this year's procedure sounds far less involved, it is still a second procedure on a joint that is a few years older, so nothing can be taken for granted. Expect Reed to be progressed carefully (as in limited) through training camp, with a soft goal of being on the field when the 2013 season opens.
Lardarius Webb, CB, Baltimore Ravens: Webb was another ACL casualty relatively early in the 2012 season, injuring his left knee in early October on a collision with Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant. Webb's progress has been solid since undergoing surgery and he expects to be ready when the season begins. One concern would naturally be whether he could regain his explosive playmaking ability. Webb has been through this injury once before, however on his opposite knee. His ability to return successfully bodes well for his recovery this time around, especially since he understands the process and can anticipate the next steps. As of now, it appears Webb is on track to start the season.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants: Unrelenting back pain can drop even the toughest player to his knees, just ask Pierre-Paul. The limitations from a herniated disc were obviously severe enough to force him to the operating room in June, and it is uncertain whether he can be ready to take the field when the season begins. The surgery was performed by renowned spine surgeon Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles and the Giants have projected a 12-week recovery. The official statement released by the surgeon was carefully worded, however. "The timing of his return to football will depend on his response to the rehabilitation program. We anticipate a full recovery," Watkins said. In other words, full recovery is the priority and is an expected outcome, but each progression is dependent on his response to the one prior. This is nothing new, but with chronic back problems in an athlete's history, it can sometimes take longer to train the coordination of the small muscles responsible for stabilizing and protecting the spine. While there is no reason to think Pierre-Paul will have anything but a strong recovery, the time it will take to do so is unknown. It would not come as a surprise if he is not ready when the season begins.
Sean Lee, LB, Dallas Cowboys: If only his health record matched his talent, Lee would be at the top of the linebacker heap. Unfortunately, that is not the case, as Lee has been beset by multiple injuries throughout his brief career. Although he didn't miss a large number of games until 2012, he did miss time in games or struggled frequently to some degree to play through various soft tissue injuries. Last year, he took a big hit when he severely injured his big toe and had to be placed on injured reserve in October. According to the Dallas Morning News, Lee tore the plantar plate, the thick fibrous tissue that reinforces the ball of the foot, along with other ligaments in the area. Not only is the injury terribly painful, it renders the toe unstable. Since pushing off through the big toe is necessary for even simple forward motion (like walking), an athlete who must power off for running and twisting cannot function with this injury. Consequently, Lee underwent surgery to repair the damage and so far appears to be recovering well. He told the Morning News in May that, other than some post-practice soreness, the toe was "pretty much 100 percent." Lee expects to be on the field when the season begins; the challenge for him will be to remain on it until the season ends.
Justin Smith, DE, San Francisco 49ers: Smith's torn triceps was clearly hampering his ability to harass opposing teams' quarterbacks late last season, but he tried valiantly to press through it during the 49ers' postseason run. When the season came to a close in February, he finally had it surgically repaired and is on track for a Week 1 return, as the standard time frame for recovery is typically four to six months. As far back as April, Niners general manager Trent Baalke said Smith had "no restrictions, no limitations," according to the Sacramento Bee. While the team may limit his activity early in camp, expect Smith to be a participant, and he should be in good shape by the time real games roll around.