Action around the NFL last week provided us with a changing of the "Bell" in Denver, a rash of defensive injuries for "Big Blue" and this year's version of the "Purple People Eaters."
Let's go to the injury review and find out who's in and who's out of the lineup for Week 9.
- Miami Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper, continuing to rehab and strengthen his knee, still hasn't returned to regular practice habits. According to several sources, he continues to have lingering pain in his knee, but has kept an upbeat attitude and still thinks he will return to full strength at some point. However, the more comfortable Joey Harrington gets in this offense, the more it seems like he might be a better fit for the Dolphins' short-term needs. Keep in mind that Culpepper's original knee injury occurred a year ago this weekend. It was said then by experts that he could miss up to a year because of the severity of the injury – three torn knee ligaments.
- The Oakland Raiders' Aaron Brooks has been medically cleared to return to practice after missing the past six weeks with a pectoral injury. Brooks could be a welcomed return for an offense that has failed to score touchdowns in four of the team's seven games this year. At 2-5, the Raiders would love to put a decent streak together, though benching Andrew Walter could put the team in a quandary as to whether a top-10 pick should be used on a quarterback in next April's NFL draft.
- The Jacksonville Jaguars' Byron Leftwich has had a full week to rehab and recover from a sprained left ankle that forced him to the sideline and allowed backup David Garrard to lead the team to a key win over the Eagles. Garrard has been taking at least an equal amount of snaps thus far. But look for coach Jack Del Rio to make a final decision before Friday's practice session in order to have his starter for this week's game against the Titans fully prepared.
- The Denver Broncos' Tatum Bell, who saw limited time against the Colts last week because of turf toe, still is not at full speed. If he is unable to carry the load again this week against Pittsburgh, the team will likely turn to rookie Mike Bell, who gained 136 yards against the Colts. For Mike Bell to progress and remain in the running back rotation, he must hold on to the ball.
- The Seattle Seahawks are growing a little concerned that All-Pro running back Shaun Alexander's foot is taking longer than expected to heal. He will not be active for Monday night's matchup with the Raiders. He's expected to return in Week 10, but there's been speculation that the rehab schedule could change if the next MRI does not show the bone is fully healed.
- The New Orleans Saints' Reggie Bush has started to recover from a sprained ankle he suffered in a loss to the Ravens. The Saints are likely to use Michael Lewis as their primary return man. Bush would then focus on sharing carries with Deuce McAllister, who was also not at 100 percent last weekend. McAllister's hamstring is doing much better and the Buccaneers could see a heavy dose of the Saints' bigger back this weekend.
- The Washington Redskins' Clinton Portis has missed practice time this week with an ankle injury, but expects to start against Dallas.
- The Raiders are really banged up in the backfield as former starter LaMont Jordan continues to deal with a back injury that has reduced him to seven carries the past two weeks. Speedy backup Justin Fargas, who is having his best pro season to date, is now suffering from a sore shoulder, but still played, gaining 55 yards on 18 carries against Pittsburgh.
- The Green Bay Packers' Vernand Morency, who gained more than 100 yards against the Cardinals last week, will miss 2-3 weeks after suffering a lower back injury. The Packers will look to backup Noah Herron to team with Ahman Green over the next month, but hope to give Morency another long look before the end of the season.
- The Dallas Cowboys have lost running back/return man Tyson Thompson for the season after he was tackled out of bounds against the Panthers. Thompson suffered a broken ankle, which will require surgery, and cause the team to potentially turn to rookie Skyler Green to spice up their return game.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers' Verron Haynes has been placed on the season-ending IR list due to a knee injury. That could open the door for veteran Duce Staley to return to the active roster. The Steelers might continue to use Najeh Davenport as the short-yardage back, but Staley could see some reps as a change-of-pace or even to complement Willie Parker on certain third-down situations.
TIGHT END/WIDE RECEIVER
- The San Francisco 49ers' Vernon Davis has started to participate in conditioning drills and do some light work, but will not play this weekend against Minnesota. He could be probable or questionable for Week 10 against Detroit. The 49ers expect him to return to the lineup no later than Nov. 19.
- Washington wide receiver Santana Moss has also been sidelined with a slight hamstring pull, which might be more serious than Portis' ankle injury. He's expected to be at full-go by Sunday.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers could be without center Jeff Hartings for several weeks after he suffered an apparent sprained knee in their loss to Oakland. Key reserve lineman Chukky Okobi will replace him in the starting lineup. That means veteran offensive guard Kendall Simmons could return to his right guard position.
- Minnesota Vikings center Matt Birk suffered a hyper-extended knee in their Monday night loss to the Patriots. He intends to receive treatment all week with the belief that he will be able to start and play against the 49ers. If Birk is unable to play, reserve Jason Whittle would take over the pivot spot for the Vikings.
- The Denver Broncos' plan to keep their new offensive line intact for now with Erik Pears starting at left tackle in place of Matt Lepsis, who was lost for the season two weeks ago. They might continue to look at current starting right guard Cooper Carlisle at that spot in practice, but some staff members do not feel rookie reserve guard Chris Kuper would improve the line play if they made the double switch at this point.
- The Seattle Seahawks have reinstated offensive tackle Sean Locklear into the starting lineup against the Raiders. He was suspended one game for violating the league's personal conduct policy. They are also hoping to have offensive lineman Floyd Womack within the next week or so. No one is complaining about the play of Chris Spencer, who has been a solid contributor since being inserted into a starting role.
- New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora (hip) and cornerback Sam Madison (hamstring) both missed practice on Wednesday. Backup defensive end Justin Tuck has also missed time with a swollen right foot. Veteran linebacker Brandon Short injured his quad in a win over Tampa Bay. The team then signed free agent linebacker Chris Claiborne. The former first-round choice missed part of last season with the Rams because of a knee injury, but might be in uniform and see action against the Texans on Sunday.
- The Philadelphia Eagles need recently signed cornerback William James (aka William Peterson) to step into a useful role down the stretch. The majority of their secondary has been banged up and missed time this season. If healthy, James gives them a bigger, more physical corner that can step into nickel or dime situations, but might also allow Lito Sheppard or Sheldon Brown to slide over to cover the slot receiver.
- Vikings linebacker Napoleon Harris suffered a dislocated wrist Monday night and is in a cast. If the pain or discomfort is too much, the Vikings will shift either Ben Leber or Dontarrious Thomas into his position. Harris, who possesses great straight-line speed, is the best athlete of the three and had been playing some of the best ball of his career. The Vikings could also be without one of their main cogs along the front line as Pat Williams is dealing with a slight knee injury. Kevin Williams is hobbled by a high left ankle sprain. The combination of injuries could be trouble for the league's top-rated run defense, which faces 49ers standout Frank Gore. The running back eclipsed the 100-yard mark against the Bears last week.