Last week, we compared the significance of the long list of NFL offensive line injuries so far this season. Now we’re switching sides of the trench to break down the various defensive line injuries that have sidelined players thus far this season. We’ve included players who are on injured reserve and thus out for the season (they’re indicated with IR by their injury) and also players who are indicated as definitely out on this week’s Wednesday injury report.
If we missed anyone, leave a comment and we’ll add them.
10 – NT Jamal Williams, Chargers (triceps, IR) – Williams has long been one of the best 3-4 nose tackles in the league, and his massive presence and disruptive ability has been a key that has allowed the rest of San Diego’s D to attack. But a Week One triceps injury ended Williams’ season almost before it began, and that’s a big blow to the Chargers – especially since another key run-stuffer, Igor Olshansky, left for Dallas in free agency this year. San Diego’s defense will have to find a new centerpiece if it’s to have the punch that it had at its best.
9 – DT Maake Kemeoatu, Panthers (torn right Achilles, IR) – Kemeoatu played on the nose in a 4-3 system, and like Williams he was the heart of his team’s run defense. But he suffered a torn Achilles tendon on the first day of training camp, and the Panthers haven’t won since. It’s no coincidence, because the Panthers don’t have anyone who can replicate the space-eating presence Kemeoatu brought.
8 – none
7 – DE Dwight Freeney, Colts (out 2-3 weeks with quad injury) – Freeney was having a dominant game against Arizona in the Week 3 Sunday night game before he suffered a quad injury. Most reports have Freeney missing 2-3 weeks with the injury, though Freeney still says he wants to play this weekend. Without Freeney, opponents can focus on DE Raheem Brock, who has the speed to beat a single blocker but not the bulk to overcome consistent double-teaming. Freeney’s injury puts a big damper on the Colts’ pass rush and may force them to take more chances blitzing that could open the door to more big plays. This injury will test the Colts’ defensive depth and show us how good the unit really is.
6 – DT Peria Jerry, Falcons (left knee, IR) – The Falcons were counting on Jerry, their first-round pick, to bring a disruptive presence inside that they simply didn’t have last year. But Jerry hurt his left knee in the second game and is gone for the year. For a team with 6 new defensive starters, losing a potentially premium player really hurts. Jerry was far from a polished project, but he was a starter, and he’ll be hard for Atlanta to replace.
5 – NT Vince Wilfork, Patriots (ankle, out indefinitely) – It’s never easy to get injury info out of New England, and so estimates on how long the ankle injury he suffered in Week 3 will keep him out are very rough. The only word thus far is that the injury is not serious, i.e. season-threatening. If Wilfork misses time, it will weaken a defense that is in flux and still trying to make up for the absence of field-sweeping MLB Jerod Mayo. Wilfork is perhaps the most important player on the defense, and his replacement, rookie Ron Brace, is unproven though he has potential. Missing Wilfork for multiple weeks would make life very hard on Bill Belichick and the Pats’ coaching staff, and that would mean Wilfork would quickly move up this comparison.
4 – DE Reggie Hayward, Jaguars (broken left leg, IR) – Hayward, who was once a big sack guy, has been more of a rotation player in recent years in Jacksonville. Still, he provided a little pass-rushing juice in limited action until he suffered his second season-ending injury in the last four years. That’s a blow to a Jaguars team that still hasn’t seen high 2008 draft picks Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves emerge at D-end yet.
4 (con’t) – DT Adam Carriker, Rams (shoulder, IR) – Carriker, a former first-round pick, had a good first year in St. Louis but a so-so second year. But the Rams, who have suffered as many line busts early in the NFL draft as anyone, needed Carriker to step forward as a top player on their defense. Instead, he landed on IR, and it has hurt the Rams’ cause. Carriker will need to recover and prove that he can be a building block, or the Rams’ new regime may cut bait.
4 (con’t) – DE Jared DeVries, Lions (ruptured Achilles, IR) – DeVries isn’t a great player, but he always gave great effort, and he was a decent place-holder against the run. He likely fit in as a backup this year for the Lions, and his motor and veteran presence would have helped a rebuilding team. But he ruptured his Achilles during training camp, which cost him his season. This is a blow on the field but even more in the locker room and on the practice field for the Lions.
4 (con’t) – DT Jay Alford, Giants (torn ACL, IR) – Alford was a fourth tackle in the Giants’ stacked rotation, but he made his share of plays given limited opportunities. He was also the team’s long-snapper. His preseason injury was a blow, but the Giants’ depth was able to keep the team strong even in Alford’s absence.
3 – DT Justin Harrell, Packers (back, IR) – Harrell, a former first-round pick, has never panned out, and now he has a chronic back injury that is costing him the ’09 season. It’s looking more and more like the Packers aren’t going to get a return for their investment in Harrell.
3 (con’t) – DT Louis Leonard, Panthers (ankle, IR) – The Panthers traded for Leonard after Kemeoatu’s injury to try to fill the massive void, and Leonard started the first two games in Carolina. But then he suffered an ankle injury that costs him the rest of the season as well. This is another huge blow to Carolina’s interior line depth.
3 (con’t) – DT Rob Meier, Jaguars (shoulder, IR) – Meier, who has played for the Jaguars since entering the league in 2000, is a rotation DT who is solid against the run and occasionally gets to the quarterback as well. But his preseason shoulder injury ended his season, which hurts Jacksonville’s DL depth.
2 – DT Dusty Dvoracek, Bears (torn right ACL, IR) – Few NFL players have had as bad a time with injuries as Dvoracek, who has actually seen his last four seasons ended prematurely by injury. The former third-round pick missed the entire ’06 season, was hurt in game 1 in ’07, sat out four games last season and now will miss all of ’09. The Bears have already cut the cord with Dvoracek, who once had ability but may just be too banged up to show it anymore.
2 (con’t) – DT Corvey Irvin, Panthers (knee, IR) – Irvin, the Panthers’ third-round pick, would have undoubtedly seen a lot of playing time, at defensive tackle given how many injuries the Panthers have suffered inside, but he too is out for the year. As you read down this list, you start to realize at least part of the reason the Panthers can no longer stop the run.
2 (con’t) – DE Henry Melton, Bears (ankle, IR) – Melton, a fourth-round draft pick this year out of Texas, suffered an ankle injury that will cost him his rookie season. Getting some playing time this year would have helped him, because the Bears may need him to help replace potential free agents Adewale Ogunleye and Mark Anderson in 2010. This injury may be more significant in that fact than in on-field impact this year.
1 – DE Stanley McClover, Texans (left knee, IR) – McClover suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, marking the second straight season he’ll miss at least 15 games with a left knee injury. You have to wonder whether the former Panthers draft pick will be able to rebound from this series of left knee problems.