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So, in an effort to help you begin the process of making base-line evaluations of such situations, this week's Fantasy Notebook will review the progress of handful of high-end prospects and the current state of their ongoing rehabs. ...
Starting in Cincinnati, where Carson Palmer still has more questions than answers in his recovery from a serious knee injury.
As Associated Press writer Terry Kinney framed the questions, how many games -- if any -- will he miss this fall? And who might fill in for him now that former backup Jon Kitna signed as a free agent with Detroit?
While Palmer expects to play in the regular-season opener, he realizes nothing is certain.
"I wish I knew when I was coming back," Palmer said in a Wednesday press conference -- his first since returning to Cincinnati to continue his ongoing rehab. "The last thing I need to do is push anything too early and push back the date that I can really step on the field 100 percent."
Palmer tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments of his left knee when he was hit by Pittsburgh's Kimo von Oelhoffen on his first pass during the Steelers' 31-17 playoff victory in January.
Palmer estimates his rehab is one-quarter complete and that he is "exactly where I should be at week 10" of his program. He met with Cincinnati media for the first time since surgery on Jan. 10 appearing confident and upbeat.
Mini-camp in spring is out of the question, he said. Training camp not very likely and the preseason iffy. And despite Palmer's hope he'll be ready for the regular-season opener, the Bengals are looking at veteran free-agent quarterbacks just in case.
"If I had a crystal ball, we wouldn't be going through this backup quarterback thing we're going through," Palmer said.
The Bengals have Craig Krenzel under contract, signed former Atlanta and Tennessee backup Doug Johnson last month and are looking at other free agents, including ex-Ram Jamie Martin and Baltimore free agent Anthony Wright.
Wednesday's press conference was the first we'd heard from Palmer since January. And while a team spokesman confirmed during Super Bowl week that Palmer had been barred from talking about his injury and surgery, the former USC star said the decision was at least partly his.
"The Bengals do a phenomenal job of protecting their players," Palmer said. "They said, 'Do you want to be talking about this for the next three months?' I said no. I could answer questions about this every single day, 10 times a day all the way until the season."
The team's media-related concerns seemed to crystallize after Palmer's surgeon, Dr. Lonnie Paulos, held a press conference the second week of January and told reporters the signal caller's knee injury was "devastating and potentially career-ending," involving numerous ligament tears, a shredded ligament, damaged cartilage and a dislocated kneecap.
"It's not just like it was a torn ACL," Paulos said at the time. "It's a magnitude more difficult to recover from and repair. It can and has ended careers, without a doubt."
Paulos replaced the anterior cruciate ligament, which runs through the middle of the knee and provides stability. He said the medial collateral ligament, which runs along the side of the knee, was damaged "real bad."
The doctor added: "On a scale of 1 to 3, it was a 4. It was off the chart. It was pretty badly damaged -- shredded is the better term."
It's safe to say Bengals' officials were unhappy with Paulos' comments. So much so, in fact, that head coach Marvin Lewis called Cincinnati Enquirer staffer Mark Curnutte -- on a Saturday night (Jan. 14) no less -- in order to clear the air.
"In talking with Carson's family and representation, what [Paulos] said was somewhat taken out of context," Lewis explained before adding: "Every indication he's given to us, the analysis of the injury, yes, it's a bad injury. But he's going to be fine. It's a shame he suffered the injury.
"But we know he will work very hard to come back."
While nobody doubts that Palmer will work hard to get back as quickly as possible, I'll advise you to review his own words one more time: "I wish I knew when I was coming back."
Those of you who draft before training camps and pre-season play would be wise to remember them on draft day. I'm not saying Palmer won't play this year; he will. And at some point in your draft, he'll have considerable value.
It's just going to be very hard to determine that value early. ...
Also in Cincinnati. ... Rudi Johnson played the entire 2005 season with torn knee cartilage that required off-season surgery. Though there were doubts he could finish the season, Johnson played in every game and broke his team record with 1,458 rushing yards.
The good news? Recent reports indicate the star tailback is expected to resume on-field work in May. ...
In Miami. ... Daunte Culpepper didn't wasted any time in getting back to work on rehabilitating his injured right knee this week. According to the Miami Herald, Culpepper resumed his rehab schedule Thursday in Orlando less than 24 hours after appearing in a Minneapolis courtroom.
A judge is expected to rule next week on a motion to dismiss three misdemeanor charges against Culpepper stemming from allegations of sexual misconduct last October on a boat cruise.
Meanwhile, head coach Nick Saban hopes to have his star signal caller available for the season opener.
And in an exclusive interview conducted by ESPN's Andrea Kremer last week, Culpepper said rehabilitation on the injured knee has gone well and he plans to be ready for Week 1.
"My knee is actually ahead of schedule," Culpepper said. "When I got hurt, I said, 'You know what, I am going on the ground, I am going to take care of my business stuff but also, I am going to work out and I am going to push this leg as far as I can push it without re-injuring it so I can come back healthy as I want to be and be the player that I love to be."
As to being ready for the opener, Culpepper pointed out: "I don't have to be ready til the season starts, but I definitely will be ready without a doubt."
Well. ... I still have a doubt. But even if I shared in Culpepper's confidence, I strongly suspect we'll have a difficult time tracking his progress.
Culpepper has agreed to continue his rehabilitation at the team complex beginning March 27, rather than at his home near Orlando, Fla. But in light of Saban's adherence to the "Bill Belichick School of Injury Information," it remains to be seen how much we'll be able to learn about Culpepper's status as the season approaches.
Falling back on the last published reports regarding his progress, the Vikings dispatched new athletic trainer Eric Sugarman to Florida the last week of February to update Culpepper's progress. Sugarman reported at that time Culpepper was on schedule.
"Eric Sugarman was down there Monday," Vikings head coach Brad Childress said at the time. "He watched him work out, got permission to put his hands on him. Suffice it to say, he looked good. For three months [after surgery], he's doing a good job."
Of course, Childress was almost certainly spinning positive with the Vikings just starting to consider the notion of a trade.
Whatever the case, with unproven Cleo Lemon currently the team's only other quarterback option, Miami continues to pursue a veteran backup -- Tommy Maddox seems to be their primary focus at this point -- in free agency in case Culpepper isn't ready to start the season.
Mike Mularkey served as Maddox's offensive coordinator in 2002 when Pittsburgh went to the playoffs with Maddox as the starter. Mularkey will hold down that same job in Miami this year.
Detroit's Joey Harrington also could enter into the mix of potential candidates whenever the Lions formally part ways, but he won't be able to begin discussions with teams until that happens.
I would suggest whoever the backup is will see action. Remember: Culpepper suffered not one, not two, but three torn ligaments -- most notably the ACL -- in his right knee Oct. 30 and most doctors project at least a 12-month recovery period for injuries of that nature.
Even though that 12-month estimate isn't chiseled in stone, Saban and Culpepper's opening week predictions obviously warrant a healthy dose of skepticism. ...
In New Orleans. ... Deuce McAllister reported Monday for the Saints' voluntary off-season conditioning program and said the rehabilitation of his surgically repaired right knee is on or ahead of schedule.
"It's coming along good," McAllister said after a team meeting, during which those in attendance were addressed by new coach Sean Payton. "Last week we started doing some light cutting on it, then some jogging.
"The doctor hasn't released me to go full speed or anything on it just yet. I'm just running some hills and doing some different exercises on it. You have some good days and some bad days. (After cutting on the knee) it was fine, knock on wood. I haven't had a lot of tendinitis or true setbacks with it. It's just one day at a time."
McAllister tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee against the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 9.
On Oct. 20, noted Birmingham, Ala., sports orthopedist Dr. James Andrews repaired the damaged ligament in reconstructive surgery and found no damage to any of the other three ligaments in the knee or in the meniscus cartilage.
For 12 weeks following the surgery, McAllister was limited to working out on a stationary bicycle and elliptical trainer.
According to New Orleans Times-Picayune staffer Jimmy Smith, he intends to participate in the team's conditioning program that runs through June 15.
It's unlikely, however, that McAllister will take part in either of the Saints' off-season mini-camps in April and June.
"The ultimate goal is to be ready for training camp," said McAllister, with an eye toward the end of July when camp is tentatively scheduled to begin. "We could push it and probably be ready for that second mini-camp. We'll just see how it goes the next two months or whatever. But everything is going well.
"I'd say I'm a little ahead of schedule, maybe on schedule, somewhere in there definitely. I'm not behind schedule, because I haven't had any setbacks."
On Monday, McAllister ran into newly-signed quarterback Drew Brees, with whom he can share rehabilitation stories because both are recovering from surgeries performed by Andrews.
Brees will return to Birmingham to continue rehabilitation on his right shoulder, which was repaired arthroscopically by Andrews in January.
"Anytime there's turnover in that backfield, you have to establish a relationship," McAllister said. "But I think me and Drew have a relationship already as far as friends are concerned. We came out the same year (2001), and I had met him my junior year in college. I think there's a friendship there.
"Now we have to build that bond as far as a quarterback and a running back go. You know, if he's going left, he has to know I'm going to be there for him.
"It's like a M-A-S-H unit back there. I know he's working hard to get his shoulder right. I think there's going to be a good rapport between us."
For what it's worth, McAllister said he has met individually with Payton, who he described as "very detailed."
"He's not looking at it as a three- to five-year window and what changes have to be made," McAllister said.
"He wants to know what occurred, why hasn't this team done better overall. He asked me a little history, but he'd done his homework, as well. ..."
In St. Louis. ... After suffering four injuries to his throwing shoulder over the past two seasons, St. Louis Post-Dispatch staff writer Bill Coats reports that Marc Bulger was pleased to hear new head coach Scott Linehan say keeping him upright was high on his list of priorities.
"I know one of his main objectives is to protect me. And do it without losing the aggressiveness" on offense, Bulger said Monday, the first day of off-season conditioning. "We're not going to run the ball on first and second down and throw it on third just to protect me. At the same time, I think [Linehan is] going to be more selective in when we should take shots down the field.
"And there might be some more quick passing game than we've done in the past. We'll see; you can't sit there and hold back the offense because you want to protect a guy too much."
Shoulder problems kept Bulger out for a total of 10 games over the past two years. He played just 29 quarters in eight games last season, which ended for him Nov. 20 after a sack by Arizona safety Adrian Wilson. No structural damage was found, but fluid buildup in the shoulder joint caused pain and stiffness.
Still, Bulger, 28, is ahead of his pace from last year, when he was unable to throw until April. "I threw on vacation a couple of weeks ago, and there's no pain; it feels good," he reported. "You never say never, but hopefully it's done and I won't have that frustrating problem again this year."
Of course, the Rams have undergone a major overhaul since the 2005 season ended. In addition to Linehan replacing Mike Martz, the team has an almost entirely new staff of assistants and a revamped roster.
"I think change is good, not that the old people that were here, there was anything wrong with them," Bulger said. "Sometimes you just need change. I think it is going to be good for everyone here. There's been changes on defense, and I'm sure there will be some on offense. It's all about getting better."
But according to Belleville News-Democrat beat man Steve Korte, Bulger was glad that the Rams didn't make one change. Wide receiver Isaac Bruce was brought back after being cut in a move to save on the salary cap.
"A small part of me got scared, but knowing Ike, I don't think he'd play for any team except the Rams, and quite honestly, I don't think (Rams president) John Shaw would let him play for somebody else," Bulger said.
Bulger has spent most of the year in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pa. He also spent a day last month in St. Louis getting acquainted with Linehan.
"He's genuine," Bulger told Korte. "He just wants us to win. It has nothing to do about him getting accolades or anything. He just wants everybody on the same page with the same goals. He's going to be demanding, but at the same time, it's not about just him. Not that it was just about coach Martz. I don't want anybody to read anything into that."
Bulger said Linehan has modified his offense to include much of the same language used by Martz and his staff.
"He has done a great job of trying to incorporate some of the things we used to do," Bulger said. "Some of the guys like Torry [Holt] and Isaac, and some of the linemen, have been here for like nine years, so it's tough to switch.
"After that long, it becomes habit. I've gotten some of the playbook, and some of the basic formations and motions are the same. ..."
As long as the results are the same -- and Bulger remains upright, Fantasy owners will be pleased. ...
In New York. ... While the Jets have been retooling their roster, their off-season program began this week with Chad Pennington returning to New York to continue his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery, general manager Mike Tannenbaum said.
According to the New York Times, Tannenbaum said the Jets were happy with Pennington's progress, but he would not discuss specifics, not even to confirm that Pennington had begun throwing again, something that Pennington had already told reporters.
Which reminds me. ... New Jets head coach Eric Mangini, like Saban, is a Belichick disciple who is a lock to follow in his mentor's footsteps when it comes to keeping a lid on injury information.
Pennington had been recuperating in Florida, but is now under the supervision of the Jets' trainers and strength and conditioning coaches.
It's worth noting that Tannenbaum said the Jets would more likely try to move up in the first round of the draft by trading the 29th pick rather than use it to select a player. The Jets acquired that pick in the three-way trade that sent defensive end John Abraham to Atlanta.
Speculation has centered on the Jets' packaging their two first-round picks to move up to No. 2 in the draft, giving them the chance to select a top quarterback, either Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler or Vince Young.
Tannenbaum, who acquired Patrick Ramsey in a trade with Washington, would not comment specifically on what the Jets might do. But in an article published last Friday, Sports Illustrated insider Don Banks suggested the Jets were "desperate for somebody younger (and healthier)" to take Pennington's job.
That's how they ended up with Ramsey. What remains unclear are their long-term plans at the position.
"We have flexibility not only in the draft, but in free agency," Tannenbaum said even after acquiring Ramsey. "We're very comfortable where we sit. ..."
In Cleveland. ... Kellen Winslow Jr. underwent arthroscopic surgery on his reconstructed right knee in January, general manager Phil Savage confirmed Thursday.
"It was just a very minor procedure to clear out some scar tissue from his previous surgery," Savage said. "The doctors tell me he's doing great and he's at the facility [in Berea] working out every day."
Cleveland Plain Dealer beat writer Mary Kay Cabot reminded readers that Winslow initially underwent surgery on the knee on June 14 to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in his May 1 motorcycle accident.
But it hasn't been an easy road back for the former sixth overall pick in the 2004 draft.
In August, he revealed he was recovering from a staph infection in the right knee that caused him to lose almost 30 pounds.
He later said the infection penetrated the joint, which can be career-threatening. In an interview in November, he said he was 75 percent back.
He also said then that he knows people doubt whether he'll make it back.
"Just keep on doubting me, because I love that," he told Cabot. ...
For the record, this latest scope was performed before Savage began telling reporters in February that Winslow should be ready for training camp.
Also in Cleveland. ... Savage has cautioned fans not to expect Braylon Edwards, who suffered a torn ACL late last season, to be at 100 percent immediately when he returns to active status. He wouldn't, however, go so far as predicting Edwards may start the season on the physically unable to perform list, which would idle him until October.
Savage also said Edwards will not be ready to participate in training camp, but "I think September would be a conservative guess," he said. ...
In case you missed it, Edwards didn't undergo surgery until the first week of January. He injured his knee trying to make a leaping catch in a Dec. 4 game against Jacksonville and missed the final four games.
Doctors had to wait until swelling in his knee subsided before he could have surgery. The doctors also suggested a nine-month timetable on recovery. ...
In Green Bay. ... As first reported in my March 5 Fantasy Notebook, there aren't a lot of running backs who are known to have come back from ruptured thigh tendons, but Ahman Green, who underwent surgery Oct. 25 to repair a full-blown tear, is almost two months ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and team officials remain confident he'll return to form this fall.
New head coach Mike McCarthy said Green has been rehabilitating at the Packers facility making it easy to follow his progress.
"Absolutely," McCarthy said. "I think it's important when guys are here (working out). I've seen him two or three times in the weight room and I've actually missed him one or two times because I've been in a meeting. He's been around.
"I feel very optimistic and positive about his contribution to our team next year. ..."
It's worth noting the Packers have agreed to terms on a new contract with Najeh Davenport, Green's backup each of the past two seasons. Davenport will sign a one-year contract, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said yesterday afternoon. "Najeh will be in Green Bay [tonight] and he'll sign the contract Monday," Rosenhaus said.
Davenport became the starter after Green was injured and rushed 12 times for 54 yards and two touchdowns in his first start against New Orleans. However, shortly before halftime he broke his right ankle and was lost for the season.
Rosenhaus said Davenport was "making headway" in his rehabilitation but that it would be more appropriate for Packers officials to comment on when he would be full-strength. ...
And Javon Walker?
The disgruntled receiver, who underwent reconstructive surgery Oct. 7 in Houston, says his rehab at Florida State (his alma mater) is going as planned. He's sprinting and should be ready to go by training camp -- for some other team, he hopes.
"I love the game," Walker said. "But I'm not going to risk what I went through this year, tearing an ACL and taking pain pills. If I'm going to go out and take hits, it's going to be for a team that I love playing for."
Walker has told team officials -- and the world for that matter -- he has no intention of playing for the Packers again. ...
In Philadelphia. ... Nothing new to report on Donovan McNabb's return from hernia surgery. Team officials have made it clear since early this year that he's enjoying a successful rehab and is right on schedule to participate in spring mini-camp.
"He looks great," general manager Tom Heckert said in January. "He's working out here every day, he feels good, and he's excited about getting back healthy next year. He's running -- not full speed yet, but it's pretty close. ...
"Looking at the guy now and watching him out there, you wouldn't even know he had surgery."
Approximately 35 players, including McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook, who missed most of December after suffering a Lisfranc sprain in his right foot, returned to team headquarters this past week to begin voluntary, position-specific workouts designed by the team's strength-and-conditioning coach, Mike Wolf.
The Eagles will not begin formal practices until the mini-camp following the draft April 29-30.
If all continues to go well, both McNabb and Westbrook will be fully involved in the post-draft mini-camp scheduled for the second weekend of May. ...
And finally, in Kansas City. ... Priest Holmes restructured his contract earlier this month by taking his 2006 pay from $3.75 million to $710,000 to give his team cap relief.
That's a deal often done by a player who is going to be a June 1 cap casualty. The Chiefs have no plans to cut Holmes, but the uncertainty about his future because of back and neck problems caused the reduction.
Holmes is still undergoing tests to determine if he can play. There's still not timetable for a decision (although team officials have hinted that it could drag out for months) and odds are starting to build up that he might have to retire. According to recent reports citing those close to the veteran halfback, that seems to be the direction he's on at this point.
But the Chiefs don't want to cut him.
According to ESPN.com insider John Clayton, team president Carl Peterson is Holmes' biggest supporter and won't do anything that would demean Holmes by releasing him.
One last note here. ... Quentin Griffin signed with the team last week as an insurance policy in case Holmes decides to retire. The former Bronco received a one-year deal. ...
That's it for now. ... Remember: This is by no means a comprehensive overview of all Fantasy prospects currently using the offseason to rehab their various injuries. The idea here was to get you up to speed on some of the bigger names.
Those of you looking for more on specific players of interest should enter those players' last name in the search box found near the upper left-hand corner of this page (and most every page here at FootballDiehards.com). That search provides access to every article regarding any player currently found in our database.
Try it out. ... I think you'll find it useful.
And don't forget to hit the Message Board to swap opinions with other Football Diehards.