Lawrence: Next Man Up

By Amy Lawrence

When NFL teams are poring over medical charts instead of drive charts, you know it’s been a tough week on the field. When coaches are answering more questions about injury reports than box scores, you know the ripple effects could be dire. After the dust settles, and doctors deliver their diagnoses, Week 2 may be remembered for its color scheme: black and blue.

With dozens of serious injuries last weekend, teams are now forced to adjust on the fly. They’re juggling roster spots and depth charts and scrambling to prepare younger, inexperienced players to step in.

The Browns are handing the reins to a rookie quarterback. Third-round draft pick Cody Kessler from USC will make his pro debut after veteran Josh McCown suffered a shoulder injury against the Ravens Sunday. Unbelievably, Kessler will be the Browns’ third starter this season and their fifth in the last five games. The revolving door at quarterback is not a new phenomenon in Cleveland, but the numbers are staggering. When the Browns take on Miami, Kessler will be the 26th starter since the franchise rebirth in 1999! Cleveland signed veteran Charlie Whitehurst on Monday just in case.

The Patriots may also have a rookie under center. After tossing a trio of touchdown passes against the Dolphins, Jimmy Garoppolo was knocked out of commission with his own shoulder injury. New England isn’t yet willing to declare him inactive; but with the Texans invading Gillette Stadium Thursday night, Garoppolo doesn’t get a full week to manage the pain around his AC joint. Since Tom Brady isn’t eligible to return from suspension until next month, the Pats may turn to the only other QB on their roster. Jacoby Brissett led a scoring drive after taking over for Garoppolo. The rookie from North Carolina State completed six of his nine pass attempts for nearly 100 yards. He came highly recommended by his mentor Bill Parcells. But a short work week is a tall order for a veteran, much less a newbie facing his first start.

Read more commentary from Amy Lawrence.

In Chicago, Minneapolis, and San Diego, they’re also navigating injuries that could significantly impact the offenses. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler reportedly suffered ligament damage to his right thumb in the season opener and made it worse against the Eagles. After tossing a hideous interception, he pulled himself out of Monday night’s game because he couldn’t grip the football. He won’t need surgery, but he could miss multiple weeks to fully heal. For now, Brian Hoyer will run the offense. At least he’s a veteran with 21 starts over the last two seasons to his credit. On defense, Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan WILL undergo thumb surgery this week. He’s sidelined indefinitely, though the team believes he’ll return later this year.

The Vikings can fall back on experience at the running back position if Adrian Peterson misses extended time with a torn meniscus. The NFL’s leading rusher two of the last three seasons may attempt to play through the pain or allow doctors to partially repair the knee ligament. Until he returns, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata will share the load. Both have been with head coach Mike Zimmer since his hire in 2014. Neither has rushed for a thousand yards in his career, but they’re both familiar with the system. And with Sam Bradford settling in at quarterback, the team can rely on his arm and the passing game to cover for the loss of Peterson.

The Chargers lose their second major offensive weapon in as many weeks. Versatile running back Danny Woodhead is done for the year after tearing his ACL in a win over the Jaguars. This after top wide receiver Keenan Allen tore his ACL in the opener. Woodhead led the league in receiving yards by a running back last season. Together, he and Allen accounted for nearly one third of San Diego’s offensive production. Melvin Gordon is more one-dimensional in the backfield, but he rushed for 102 yards on Sunday. And the Chargers signed former Pro Bowler Dexter McCluster to pitch in.

Even the Super Bowl champs are dealing with an injury to a captain this week. Broncos pass rusher DeMarcus Ware could miss more than a month after surgery to fix his broken forearm. The veteran defensive end sat out most of the preseason with back trouble, and the team put him on a snap count to try to keep him healthy. But he collided with Von Miller while they were hounding Andrew Luck on Sunday. Denver coach Gary Kubiak is relieved Ware will be able to return at some point.

Injuries are part of life in the NFL; but with so many teams and players affected so early in the season, Week 3 offers brand new challenges. The echoes of “Next Man Up!” can be heard all over the league.

A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @ALawRadio.

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