Next month, when training camps get under way, teams will be holding their collective breath in the hopes that no player suffers an injury. It will happen, either in training camp or the preseason. It’s the toughest part of the summer for any NFL team, when a player plants the wrong way, or lands funny after a hit, and X-rays confirm that his season is wiped out before it even begins. The Eagles and Ravens already suffered big blows with offseason injuries to Jason Peters and Terrell Suggs, respectively.
Injuries are a part of the game, but you never want to see a player’s season get derailed before it even starts. And no team knows the damage that can do better than the Colts, who went 2-14 last season without Peyton Manning.
The future Hall of Famer was not the only crucial player to miss all of 2011 with an injury — and he’s also not the only one who switched teams this offseason. The following list will not include 2011 rookies, like Cardinals RB Ryan Williams and Redskins DT Jarvis Jenkins, as those players were covered here. Here’s a look at 10 players returning to the gridiron in 2012 who are expected to make impacts with their clubs (in alphabetical order):
1. TE John Carlson / Vikings — Carlson had season-ending shoulder surgery last August, then signed with the Vikings in March. His numbers decreased each season after catching 55 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie in 2008 (though he did have seven touchdown catches in ’09). Carlson and 2011 rookie Kyle Rudolph give QB Christian Ponder a nice duo at tight end.
2. QB David Garrard / Dolphins — A unique player on this list, Garrard was not on a team last season after the Jaguars cut him in September. It’s safe to say, though, that if Garrard were healthy, someone would have taken a flier on him. Garrard, who had back surgery last fal, is now competing to be Miami’s starting quarterback with Matt Moore and first-round pick Ryan Tannehill. Garrard impressed in spring practice.
3. WR David Gettis / Panthers — As a rookie, Gettis was second on the Panthers in receiving yards, catching 37-508-3 in 2010 without much help from the quarterback spot and trailing Steve Smith by only 46 yards. Gettis missed all of 2011 with a knee injury, and the Panthers’ offense is vastly different with Cam Newton at the helm. Fellow ’10 rookie Brandon LaFell got a head start with the new offense last season, but Gettis showed flashes as a rookie and could turn out to be a nice weapon for Newton.
4. RB Rashad Jennings / Jaguars — Jennings showed flashes in 2010, rushing for 459 yards and four touchdowns. The Jags were looking forward to using him more in ’11, but he went down with a knee injury. He actually tweeted in October that he was close to being medically cleared to resuming football activities, so he will be more than ready to go come camp and should help take the load off Maurice Jones-Drew. Plus, if MJD continues his holdout, Jennings will be the team’s top back in camp.
5. QB Peyton Manning / Broncos — Four neck surgeries in two years made Manning one of the most notable players to miss a season in recent history. He saw his consecutive games streak come to an end, as well as his time with the Colts. Indy’s poor record without him allowed the Colts to move on from Manning and draft Andrew Luck. Manning is now in Denver, and all eyes will be on his return to the game to see if he is anywhere close to the Manning we are used to.
6. TE Tony Moeaki / Chiefs — An ACL injury kept Moeaki from building off a very impressive rookie season. In 2010, Moeaki had 47 catches for 556 yards and three touchdowns. He returns to the offense as the starting tight end and gives Matt Cassel another pass catcher. Moeaki is also a solid red-zone threat.
7. LB Keith Rivers / Giants — The former top-10 pick has not lived up to the hype, and the Bengals traded him to New York this offseason. He missed the entire 2011 season with a broken wrist, and also landed on injured reserve as a rookie after suffering a broken jaw. Look for Rivers to be a top reserve for the Giants as he attempts to get his career on the right path.
8. CB Terrell Thomas / Giants — Thomas tore his ACL in the preseason, leaving the Giants without their top corner. It didn’t hamper the team too much — they did win the Super Bowl — but pass defense was far from a strength. Thomas is expected to return to his starting spot opposite Corey Webster, which should help fortify the secondary after Webster had a standout ’11 season.
9. CB Greg Toler / Cardinals — A knee injury in the preseason knocked Toler out for the 2011 season. In 2010, Toler had nine passes defensed and two interceptions, but he will be in a competition to regain his starting job in Arizona. The team used a third-round pick on Jamell Fleming and also has A.J. Jefferson, who started seven games last season.
10. DE Ty Warren / Broncos — For the second year in a row, Warren spent the season on injured reserve. In 2010, it was a hip injury and last season, a triceps injury, which kept him from making his debut with the Broncos after eight seasons with the Patriots. Warren, who has 20½ career sacks, restructured his contract this spring and will be in the competition to start at defensive tackle.
Other players to watch who missed the entire 2011 season: Vikings LB Jasper Brinkley, Redskins LB Jonathan Goff, Saints PK Garrett Hartley and Vikings OG Geoff Schwartz.