Injuries can be devastating to a player's career. Some can come back strong, some are never the same again and some never fully recover. Here is a rundown at the big names looking to return in 2011-12 after missing a big chunk of last season.
Despite the Cowboys' struggles, Romo held up his end of the bargain very well, completing 69.5% of his passes for 1,605 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions in the first five and a half games of the season. He never returned after breaking his collarbone in week 7. In limited practices, that he himself had to organize due to the lockout, word is good that Romo is at 100% and has no discomfort. Fractures are actually a good thing compared to muscle and ligament tears which might hamper a player for the rest of their career. Once they heal, players who had fractures are rarely bothered.
While Romo should be good to go once he heals up, former first overall pick Matt Stafford obviously has some serious long term shoulder problems. Stafford dislocated his shoulder after playing just 10 games in his rookie season and followed up in 2010 with a dislocated right shoulder in the season opener that cost him five games and then dislocated his shoulder again two weeks after returning. He opted to undergo surgery to repair his joint, which holds the key to his future health. If the surgery helps keep his shoulder in place, Stafford is a QB to watch. If not, it is only a matter of time until one of those hits cuts another season short.
After two stellar years, Grant's 2010 season ended after just 8 rushing attempts. He missed the entire season after suffering ankle ligament damage that required surgery. He was replaced by Brandon Jackson and James Starks down the stretch, missing out on the chance to play in the SuperBowl. He is a free agent who is expected to re-sign with the Pack when the off-season finally, officially, begins but this time will have to split carries with breakout James Starks and possibly Randall Cobb.
Foot injuries forced Gates out of week 9-10 and onto the injured reserve after week 13. It turned out that Gates' would not require surgery and is expected to be fully recovered after simply needing to rest his foot for the off-season.
Steve Smith (Giants)
Smith was having another great season before hamstring, pectoral, and knee injuries forced him to essentially miss all of the games following week 9. After requiring micro-fracture surgery in the offseason, it doesn't look good. Smith is not expected to be ready for the beginning of the season and could end up on the physically unable to perform list which would put him out at least six games, likely more. In other words, avoid Steve Smith in 2011.
Bryant missed the final four games of the season with a fractured ankle, but as with Romo, the fracture seems to have healed and Bryant should be good to go in 2011. The bigger problem may be his off-field issues which involved confrontations with police and lawsuits during the offseason.
Montario Hardesty/Mark Clayton
Both Hardesty and Clayton were not big names before 2010, in fact, Hardesty wasn't even in the league before last season. They are, however, guys that were expected to step up and carry a heavy load for their respective teams. Instead, Hardesty missed his entire rookie season with a torn ACL which allowed Peyton Hillis to have a monster year and Clayton was injured in week 5 and forced to miss the rest of the season with a torn tendon in his knee. Hardesty is not 100% just yet but he is expected to get a lot of carries while splitting time with Hillis in 2011 if he is fully ready to go. Clayton, meanwhile, worked very well with Sam Bradford but is now a free agent and it is unknown if the Rams will try to re-sign him. He will certainly land on a team though and should be ready to go, it may be worth to take a chance on him too.
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