In his robust Inside The NFL notebook below, Albert Breer touches on multiple topics including:
» Four things he's looking forward to in Week 3
» Andy Reid's commitment to QBs paying off
» How Plaxico Burress fits in with the Jets
» What Sam Bradford and Tom Brady have in common
» And much more, beginning with the remarkable story of Jarvis Green and how it relates to Peyton Manning...
Former NFL defensive lineman Jarvis Green's decision to have stem-cell therapy on a torn-up knee wasn't just about football. It was also about quality of life. And 15 months after the procedure, from both a football and life standpoint, he has a message for Peyton Manning:
Good days are ahead.
Fox Sports NFL insider and NFL Network contributor Jay Glazer reported last weekend that the Colts quarterback, who's had three neck surgeries in 2011, including a September spinal fusion, went across the Atlantic Ocean to have the stem-cell treatment Green had done in an attempt to expedite the healing process and alleviate the associated pain. After that, it was revealed that Terrell Owens recently went to Korea to have a similar procedure.
Can Manning expect the results Green says he's gotten? That's unclear. "The only thing controversial about it," said renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache, "is that it's never been shown to work." Dr. James Gladstone, chief of sports medicine at Mount Sinai, adds, "It may turn out in some circumstances that it's a really good thing. In others, it may have no effect."
For his part, Green swears the therapy worked. In 2009, his final year with the Patriots, Green had two knee surgeries. The first, which he was told was "just a scope," took him months to recover. The second, coming during the season, took a month of games off the calendar for him. After playing out the year with New England, he bolted for Denver.
At minicamp the following June, his knee worsened to the point where he said it was "bone-on-bone." In an effort to hide a brace and heavy bandaging, he wore sweatpants. He says he had a good few days of practice, but he knew something was wrong. And he searched for answers.
"After minicamp, I couldn't walk up and down stairs, I couldn't play tennis with my kids. Nothing," Green said.
Stem-cell therapy is what he found. He went to a doctor in Bloomington, Colo., keeping all this from the Broncos. The process had doctors extracting bone marrow from his hip and harvesting it for three weeks. That substance was then injected into Green's knee. Green was told to wear knee braces for the next 10 days.
Within two weeks, he said everything changed.
It wouldn't be enough to save his football career. But it did give him a chance. Green passed the team's grueling conditioning test in July, just weeks after having the procedure done, and got some pretty serious returns away from the game as well.
"The pain was gone," Green said, adding that he plans to go to Europe to have the therapy on other areas of his body ravaged by football. "It was a tremendous difference in the pain level, my range of motion. It was amazing. I rented a house in Denver with an elevator, just to get by, and said nothing to coaches, because I was worried about getting cut.
"Two weeks later, I'm swimming and biking in the mountains. ... I went to camp, didn't miss a day of practice, ran every day, beat everyone in sprints."
Green has no doubt on the effects of the stem-cell therapy. Conversely, in the medical community, there's plenty of doubt.
"I can't recommend it until I've seen reasonably well-done studies on it," said ElAttrache, who did Tom Brady's ACL surgery and has worked for a half-dozen pro sports franchises. "What I know about that one particular type of treatment is that it's safe. I just don't know how effective it is."
Gladstone said, "I wouldn't say it's controversial. It's experimental. The effects and benefits of it are not known yet. We don't know whether it's a bunch of nonsense or if it's highly effective."
He related it to the concept of Platelet Rich Plasma, or blood spinning, a practice that came under scrutiny because of the involvement of Anthony Gallea, the Canadian doctor who pleaded guilty to bringing unapproved drugs such as human growth hormone into the U.S. Gladstone said where the idea of blood spinning is to promote healing through the separation of white and red blood cells, the concept of stem-cell therapy is to enhance healing.
"You get cells that haven't differentiated and haven't moved into whatever they're going to become, and you hope they become bone or cartilage or tendons," he explained. "It settles into an area that's injured, and the hope is it develops into the type of cell needed to heal that injury."
When asked if going to Europe to have the procedure done was a sign of desperation, ElAttrache -- who emphasized that he did not know the specifics of the Colts quarterback's treatment, and suspected it could even have been the kind of plasma treatment Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Rafael Nadal had overseas -- responded that he didn't think Manning was going out on a limb by making the trip. Rather, it was exhausting another option.
In fact, he says he could see why the plasma treatment would be tempting. "If someone tells you it's natural, and that it's not going to harm you or delay healing, it might be attractive for someone with a chronic issue like arthritis," said ElAttrache.
ElAttrache added he thinks Manning has a "reasonable shot" of being available later this year, whether the treatment is effective or not. The course of the spinal fusion, the doctor says, is relatively predictable and can be expected to be effective. It's the nerve regeneration, which would bring back the power in his right arm and hand, that is less predictable. On the low end, ElAttrache says, that part will take 3-4 months. More likely, it'll shelve Manning for 9-12 months, making training camp in 2012 a better bet than December.
But the bottom line here is that ElAttrache sees the stem-cell therapy Manning had as highly unlikely to steady that part of it. It may help the healing process, particularly with anti-inflammatory effects, but if the regeneration happens in time for Manning to come back this year, the doctor says, it's probably not because of that trip overseas.
Meanwhile, in Colorado and with his new construction company in North Dakota, Green says he's living a better life because of the treatments. And his belief is that this chain of events starting with this therapy is no coincidence.
"They're working miracles," said Green. "I'm gonna go overseas again, because it works. I'm not 100 percent, but I'm playing football with my son. Stem-cell therapy, it does work, and it could help so many players out there."
Manning, of course, hopes it works for him. How much could it? That seems to be very much up for debate.
Reid's commitment to QBs paying off
Even with Michael Vick set to start Sunday against the Giants, Andy Reid knew going into this week it wouldn't be the end of the world if he had to shelve his quarterback. And it's because of his commitment to a position that's long been the game's most important, but seems to get more vital with time.
Since arriving in Philadelphia, Reid has drafted Donovan McNabb (1st round, 1999), A.J. Feeley (5th round, 2001), Andy Hall (6th round, 2004), Kevin Kolb (2nd round, 2007) and Mike Kafka (4th round, 2010). So it's hardly like he's taking one every year. But more often than not, he's getting service and a return from those picks.
McNabb guided the Eagles to five NFC title games in 11 years, and the club reaped second- and fourth-round picks for him as he hit the back nine. Feeley was an Eagle for three years and also brought home a second-round pick. Kolb was a backup for three years, ascended to the starting position, and when Vick beat him out, the team got a second-round pick and a potential Pro Bowl corner, in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, for him.
McNabb went 63-43-1 as a starter, and Kolb and Feeley went a combined 7-4 in their chances (not counting Feeley's second Philly stint from 2006-08) to start. On top of that service, Philadelphia got a pretty comparable haul of draft picks and players (three 2s, a 4, and Rodgers-Cromartie) to what they spent on the four QBs in the first place. And after all that, they now have Vick as their starter.
So it totally makes sense that Reid cut his NFL teeth under Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren in Green Bay, the two of whom created a similar breeding ground for the position behind ironman starter Brett Favre. I asked the Eagles coach about that this week, and he swore the return is a byproduct of that philosophy, not its foundation.
"First of all, you need good quarterbacks, even with a guy like Brett, who had all those consecutive games," Reid told me. "You better have some good backups, because if that guy goes down, you have to be able to keep the level of play up. You take that position and you make sure you study it to that nth degree. And then, whatever happens after that happens.
"If they end up being traded, or become free agents and move on and have success, then that's what happens. But immediately, you want to build yourself depth."
That brings us to Sunday. As Reid said, the idea has been to have Kafka ready to play. If Vick had been slower to recover, then the byproduct could be put to work, with the league getting a closer look at a player, in Kafka, who offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg says has picked up the offense quicker than anyone he's had and who ultimately could wind up a commodity.
It's a pretty interesting dynamic at work, and one you can see that a team like Indianapolis, which was left to sign Kerry Collins, may now regret not employing.
And it's also easy to see why Reid followed the blueprint drawn up by Wolf, who got plenty back for Favre caddies Mark Brunell (third-, fifth-rounders from Jacksonville), Matt Hasselbeck (third-rounder, seven-slot move-up in Round 1), and Aaron Brooks (third-rounder, along with swap of role players).
"It was the same then," Reid continued. "The guys you mentioned, they got a pretty good deal on Hasselbeck, they got a pretty good deal on Brunell. But I think if you talk to Ron, I think the first thing he'd tell you to make sure you have that position covered. It's a very important position. And then whatever happens down the road with the compensation happens."
The Jets' plan for Burress
Plaxico Burress' four-catch, 72-yard debut as a Jet was followed by a big, fat goose egg in last Sunday's blowout over the Jaguars.
What gives? Well, just like Jamal Lewis and Vick needed time coming out of prison in similar circumstances, Burress is shaking off the rust off after time away from the game. He told me he expects to be back in football shape "in Week 4 or 5 or 6."
Now, that's not the same as being in good physical condition. Burress swears fatigue isn't a problem now and was actually surprised in Week 1 how well his body responded to the workload. "I was still running pretty fast in the fourth quarter," he said. But getting used to the physical movements of live football is taking some work.
There's also the matter of learning the offense, something that he's getting help on from his good buddy Santonio Holmes.
The two have known each other for almost a decade through Fred Taylor -- Holmes' cousin and Burress' best friend -- and they're close enough for Holmes to have made a recruiting call to Burress as the ex-Steeler and Giant was on his visit to Pittsburgh in late July. That one worked, and so too is their relationship as Burress works to get the offense down.
Thus far, Burress has been restricted to the "X" (or split end) position, which is where Holmes played last year before moving to the "Z" (flanker) this summer. Holmes has that flexibility, of course, because of his knowledge of the offense, and he's trying to help Derrick Mason and Burress get to the point where he's gotten.
"He knows the position ... everything I don't know, I ask him," Burress told me. "That's my on-the-field coach."
The idea ultimately is to have all three receivers be interchangeable, which would allow Brian Schottenheimer to do more of the motioning and formation changing that his offense is known for.
And if you add up all of the above, you can see that Burress has a lot going on. But he's getting there, and the idea of how the receivers could play off one another is driving him now.
"We're gonna complement each other so well, being on opposite sides of the field," Burress said. "Tone's a guy where you have to pay attention to him, you can't just leave him over there and see what he does and expect an opponent to cover him. I think it's gonna get really interesting as the season plays out."
Bradford buys in to new scheme
Speaking of players adjusting to new offenses, Sam Bradford's only 17 months into his NFL career (with five of those swallowed by the lockout) and he's already knee-deep in his second system.
Talking to Bradford late last week, one stark fundamental difference between the West Coast system he ran last year with Pat Shurmur and the Patriots-type system he's running now under Josh McDaniels was particularly interesting -- the way he's instructed to read a defense and its coverage.
"One thing you have to do in this offense as a quarterback is think a lot pre-snap," Bradford told me. "But once you understand the reads and the progressions, you gather that information before the snap, and it makes it that much easier post-snap. I usually know exactly where I'm going with the ball. In the West Coast, it's a pure progression -- A to B to C. In this offense, as soon as I know the look takes away A and B, I can go directly to C."
The offense is complex, of course. But the buy-in, for Bradford, was simple.
"To me, knowing this worked for Tom Brady and Matt Cassel and other guys, and knowing how great they were running it for [McDaniels], that's a motivator," Bradford said. "I don't want him to think I can't do this thing or that thing because I'm not them. I never want to be the reason he can't put in a concept."
It's interesting, too, to relate that back to New England. If Brady was ever guilty of forcing the ball in a receiver's direction, it was to Randy Moss, and as soon as that became a problem, Moss was gone. So you see where it might be hard for the Patriots to simply "get Chad Ochocinco involved." If you listen to Bradford, that goes against the construct of the scheme.
That scheme, of course, is still a work in progress for the quarterback and his Rams. But he thinks that process is moving along, even if the club's 0-2 start doesn't do much to validate how far they've come.
"I'm confident in our ability as a group, and it doesn't feel like [McDaniels] is holding anything back," Bradford said. "I feel like he's thrown as much out there as we need, as much as you need to have a good gameplan.
"But on the whole, I guess it'll always change, because for different teams, you have different gameplans. Two concepts are never paired, it's all based on the opponent's strengths and weaknesses, and that's great, too."
Four things I'll look for this weekend
1) How the burgeoning chemistry between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Stevie Johnson tests in a pressure situation this week, with a) New England in town, and b) Roscoe Parrish out for the season. Fitzpatrick and Johnson are as important as they've ever been to the Bills on Sunday, and it adds a layer to how this relationship started as a result of Southwest Airlines open seating policy. In early 2009, both players were set to fly from Dallas to Buffalo. In the gate area, the QB noticed Johnson's red socks, looked up and recognized the receiver, and went over to introduce himself. The two sat together on the plane, because Southwest allows you to move around, and Johnson taught Fitzpatrick the playbook. The rest is history. Fitzpatrick threw for 3,000 yards last season, Johnson accounted for 1,073 of those and 10 touchdowns. Both players' contracts are up after the season, and while Johnson said he's staying out of that part of it, he thinks it's only right for Buffalo to lock up their big-play combo. As he said to me, "Why not? It's working. Wise up."
2) The Chiefs in another precarious position. Last week, they faced a rising and hungry Lions team. This week, they get the homecoming Chargers, smarting off a mistake-riddled loss on the opposite coast in New England. And just as they were adjusting without Eric Berry, this time they'll be dealing with the reality of playing without offensive centerpiece Jamaal Charles. But where there's a chance for this to turn into another 12-car pileup -- with all of us rubbernecking and more evaluators looking at tape and shaking their heads at how things could have gone so terribly wrong -- there's also opportunity. If the Chiefs can find a way in San Diego, they have the Vikings and Colts next, then the bye to regroup. I'm not counting on this ship being righted, not with everything that's dysfunctional there now, but it's not over yet.
3) How the Bears offense bounces back from the beatdown it took in the Superdome, with the big-play defense of Green Bay coming to town. Here's an understatement: Jay Cutler hasn't played well against the Packers at Soldier Field. Last year, in two home games, right up until he was hurt in the NFC title game, Cutler was 27-of-53 for 248 yards and two interceptions against Dom Capers' crew. In seven quarters, he led the Bears to all of three points. And if you add in his first home game as a Bear against the Packers, back in 2009, he's 0-3 and a cumulative 50-for-89 for 457 yards, two touchdowns and five picks. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but it's not figuring to get better behind an injury-riddled line. Once again, it's gut-check time for Cutler.
4) How the young Rams react in a big spot this week, with the Ravens coming to town and coming off an upset loss to the Titans. It's not like you can't explain away what's happened the past two weeks with St. Louis. The Eagles were too much in Week 1, and injuries and mental errors were costly in Week 2 (see: Boley, Michael). Here's one thing I think should be cleared up: My impression is that coach Steve Spagnuolo is hardly on any kind of shaky ground. His Monday night post-game meeting with owner Stan Kroenke got some attention, though, so let's address it here. My understanding is that it's standard for Spagnuolo and Kroenke to meet before and after every game. And in this case, it was Spagnuolo who initiated the conversation. After addressing the team, the coach, I'm told, said to Kroenke, "Hey, let's get caught up." At the time, he had completed his local radio commitments, had a few minutes before his press conference, and the meeting with Kroenke wound up going long. Nothing out of the ordinary, outside of Spagnuolo being late, and no reason to start sounding alarms in St. Louis.
1) If Cam Newton fails as an NFL quarterback, something that doesn't look all that likely after two weeks as a pro, it won't be because he isn't trying to do things the right way. Known as a celebrity quarterback coming out of Auburn, it's pretty clear that Newton has won over his teammates and is, to a degree, showing an ability to grasp an NFL offense. And my understanding is he's doing the right things when no one's looking, too. In fact, here's the kind of story you'll be hearing down the line if Newton really makes it as an NFL star: On the set of an Under Armour commercial that he shot with Tom Brady, the young Panther, a locked-out rookie at that time, was very inquisitive of the reigning NFL MVP. I heard that Brady walked away impressed with Newton.
2) The Titans aren't done taking advantage of teams that are susceptible to being caught napping and, based on the division they're in, my belief is that's a .500 team, not one in total rebuilding mode. No, Tennessee's not flush with talent. But the Titans are sturdy along the line of scrimmage on both sides on the ball, and teams like that usually are able to achieve a level of consistency. That doesn't mean they won't be outmanned on a lot of Sundays. They will be. But provided they can stay healthy, that consistency will likely mean winning the games they should and stealing a few from superior clubs, which is precisely what they did against the Ravens.
3) The NFL has waded into some really tricky waters with this whole "fake injuries" ordeal. The primary problem is that it'll be difficult for the league to preach player safety, and at the same time attempt to call players on whether or not their ailments are real. And this is a problem that figures to continue to be one. Offenses, more and more, are going no-huddle to maintain matchup advantages by preventing defenses from substituting. The key here, I think, is for the league to be proactive. So my solution is simple: If a player goes down in a two-minute situation, and play is stopped, make it so the defense can only substitute for that player. That would allow for the player's injury to be respected, while also serving as a deterrent for coaches to encourage flopping.
Two pieces of business
1) Haloti Ngata's five-year, $61 million contract was one big domino to fall, and set up the Ravens to continue to lock up the younger parts of their core. But while there were rumblings on Joe Flacco's contract situation over the past year, the first priority for Baltimore now is to try to get Ray Rice taken care of, and I'd expect talks to heat up soon. The tailback market has taken shape with deals for Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and DeAngelo Williams done over the past two months, and the team retains the franchise tag, which will be much pricier as a result of those contracts, as a fallback option. Flacco's next contract is likely to be done in the 2012 offseason.
2) I have to wonder if the NFL eventually will extend the personal conduct policy to punish teams, as well as individuals, as it has with on-field violations. The Bengals, again, have been in the news for all the wrong reasons this week, whether it's the Cedric Benson suspension (a murky one for the NFL) or the case of Jerome Simpson and Anthony Collins running what was suspected to be a drug "distribution network." Here's the thing: That stuff is far more embarrassing to the league than what might or might not be a dirty hit. And if a team, like Cincinnati, has a habit of bringing in guys like that, it may help to heap added risk onto the proposition to make it more difficult for clubs to take on loads of problem children. Just a thought, anyway.
The Raiders are in it for the long haul. And if that seems like a funny thing to say after a team lost a game, consider the circumstances.
Coming off a short week, and traveling cross-country, Oakland jumped to a 21-3 lead on Buffalo. The Raiders promptly blew that, allowing three unanswered touchdowns. But despite all that, and though they were probably running on fumes at that point, they punched back.
The Bills went up 24-21. The Raiders responded with a touchdown. The Bills went up 31-28. The Raiders scored another touchdown. And even when Buffalo took the lead for good with a David Nelson touchdown with 14 seconds showing, Oakland nearly pulled off a Hail Mary miracle.
Based on what the "Old Raiders" accomplished, I don't know that I'd go that far. But as far as reestablishing that mindset, it's clear Jackson's well on his way.