A preseason injury outlook on fantasy-noteworthy quarterbacks. This column will be updated throughout the summer:
Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles: In the first preseason game, Vick banged his thumb on a teammate's helmet. X-rays on his thumb were negative and the swelling subsided quickly, allowing him to return to practice within two days. It didn't even seem worthy of an injury mention given his quick recovery.
Then there was the Eagles' second preseason game Monday night. In the first quarter Vick took a shot in the ribs from Patriots' defensive end Jermaine Cunningham and went down hard. He was hit while releasing the ball, leaving his midsection wide open and vulnerable. Again, X-rays were negative but this week the injury is worth a mention both for what it is and what it represents. The bones may be intact but the amount of pain Vick was in after the hit suggests that he'll still be sore tomorrow and perhaps beyond. There is soft tissue between and around the ribs and the cartilage (which connects the ribs to the sternum or chest) is perhaps the most vulnerable. Cartilage can be slow to heal, something Vick knows firsthand since it was a rib cartilage injury which sidelined him for multiple weeks in 2010.
Vick has now sustained repeat "fluke" injuries, which does not bode well for him staying on the field an entire season. He banged his thumb on a teammate's helmet last year; thankfully it was his non-throwing hand. He's done the same thing again this year. In 2010, he didn't break ribs but he did sustain a serious rib cartilage injury. In the second preseason game, he didn't break ribs but well, we don't know the "but" just yet. Even if Vick is able to play in the third preseason game, you wonder if he will, despite the fact he has had limited game reps. You may wonder even more whether these injuries signal the likelihood of Vick absorbing more punishing hits (I believe they do) and whether he will miss time (I fear he will). Risk remains high for him no matter what the reward.
Addendum (Aug. 22):
According to an AP report, an MRI and CT scan performed Tuesday indicate Vick did not suffer any broken bones or fractured cartilage. He does have a contusion (deep bruise) of his ribs and the surrounding soft tissue. In other words, he will be sore for a few days. Interestingly, he also had his thumb X-rayed. Those tests came back negative. Coach Andy Reid has not yet said whether Vick will play again in the preseason. "I'm not that concerned, other than the fact that he is hurt," Reid said. "I want to make sure that he heals up and gets back out there. And hopefully he doesn't get hurt again." Hopefully.
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: What's left to say about Manning that hasn't been said already? We know about the multiple procedures he has had on his neck. We know he did not see the field at all in 2011. We know he's no longer a member of the Indianapolis Colts and has traded in his blue-and-white No. 18 for an orange-and-blue version.
So what can we realistically expect from Manning in 2012? While there is no way to predict with any certainty how his season will pan out, given all the variables in play, there's every reason to be encouraged. Manning has been participating in OTAs and drawing rave reviews from his new teammates. The Broncos have indicated he will be on a throwing schedule to gradually increase his workload, even though he has been fully cleared to return to play by both his surgeon and the Broncos' medical staff. His fusion has been deemed stable, and the only lingering question is whether his arm strength has returned to pre-injury levels. Certainly one could argue the time away from physical contact has provided Manning with a good opportunity to give his entire body some well-earned rest, leaving him fresh to start the season.
Until we see him in competition, though, we won't be able to definitively say whether he looks like the Peyton Manning we've come to know over the past decade-plus. But we don't have to wait to know that Manning himself expects nothing less.
Addendum (Aug. 13):After his first preseason action, Manning took another step in his recovery and I offered an update on his progress. For the complete column, click here.
Matt Schaub, Houston Texans: Schaub was injured during a quarterback sneak in Week 10 when the none-too-slim Albert Haynesworth fell on his foot. The injury to his right midfoot (a variant of the Lisfranc type) required surgery to repair and put an early end to Schaub's season. Schaub underwent surgery in November with foot and ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson and could not bear weight on his right foot for the better part of two months. After gradually increasing his weight-bearing and ultimately returning to walking without a limp, Schaub underwent a standard follow-up procedure in April to remove the bulk of the previously implanted hardware.
Schaub's rehab has gone well, by all accounts, and although he has not participated in OTAs or minicamps, coach Gary Kubiak expects him to be on the field for training camp activities in July. Schaub thinks he could have returned sooner, telling the Houston Chronicle in early June, "I'm ready to go," but the team believes there's no compelling reason to rush the veteran back. The intensive rehab has paid dividends. According to the Texans' website, Schaub predicted, "Both my legs will definitely be stronger next season than they have ever been."
Lisfranc injuries are more common among running backs, but they often face bigger challenges in their recovery given their positional demands. As Schaub noted, one of the strengths of his game is "playing within the pocket." In other words, for him to return to top form will not be as taxing on his surgically repaired foot as it would if he had a running quarterback style of play. Presuming no setbacks, Schaub should be ready to go when the season starts.
Addendum (July 20): It's official: Schaub has been medically cleared for training camp. While Schaub has consistently expressed confidence that he would be a full participant in camp, the confirmation came in mid-July from his surgeon, Dr. Robert Anderson, according to ESPN AFC South blogger, Paul Kuharsky.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams: Bradford suffered a left high ankle sprain in mid-October, missed three games, then returned to the playing field in early November. But after a few weeks of looking clearly less than healthy, Bradford sat out again. He did not play the final three games of the season.
Some were surprised to learn that Bradford was still experiencing soreness in his ankle when OTAs rolled around, given that more than half a year had passed since he was first injured. The recovery clock, however, really couldn't get under way until Bradford completely rested the ankle, essentially at the end of the season. A moderate high ankle sprain can take several months to heal, followed by the time to restore normal mobility and to regain normal strength around the ankle. Integrating football activities comes last.
Bradford should presumably be feeling much better by training camp, and as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in May, he noted the ankle "seems to feel better every week," adding, "It's definitely on the right track." Bradford and his ankle should be ready to start the season. Now if he can manage to get sacked less (he was sacked 36 times in just 10 games in 2011), maybe he can stay on the field deeper into the season.
Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals: Kolb has had trouble staying on the field the past two years, playing only eight games in 2010 and nine in 2011. In October 2011, Kolb suffered a toe injury that kept him out four weeks. Once the toe had finally improved, Kolb suffered a concussion. The injury occurred in December, and Kolb did not play the remainder of the season. Kolb's 2010 season was famously impacted by a concussion (that injury was the reason he lost his starting job to a guy named Michael Vick). His failure to return last season left a question as to whether he had fully recovered, and it followed him around throughout the spring. Considering that Kolb acknowledged symptoms lingering into the offseason, the concerns were justifiable.
As if to brush off the concerns, Kolb insists the concussions were "a freak deal," according to the Arizona Republic, and reportedly plans to wear a different type of helmet this season. It's important to remember, though, that there's no helmet in existence fully capable of preventing concussions. Perhaps the single most important variable for Kolb is that he has completely recovered from his prior incidents. For his part, he maintains that he has now indeed recovered. The Cardinals are hoping Kolb can remain injury-free in 2012, but the open competition this summer between him and John Skelton suggests no one is taking any chances.
Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs: Cassel's season ended in November when he broke a bone in his right (throwing) hand. Cassel underwent surgery to stabilize the fracture and has not missed a beat in OTAs. Clearly he is past the injury and will be fine to start the season.