Shaun Alexander is out with a broken left foot. Those words alone have some fantasy owners rocking on the floor in the fetal position, mumbling something about LaDainian Tomlinson and Peyton Manning. But what exactly has Alexander out and what does it mean? That's where you can save your season or maybe steal one of the top running backs.
Alexander has been dealing with a foot injury for the last couple weeks. All indications were that it was a mild sprain. Calls made to team sources there earlier today pointed to the injuries on the line and the loss of Steve Hutchinson and not injury were holding their MVP back. Instead, we learned today that Alexander suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left foot during his Week 2 start against the Cardinals. According to both Coach Mike Holmgren at his weekly press conference and medical sources, the fracture is very small and was missed on the initial images. This is in direct contrast to Holmgren's statements earlier in the day saying he expected Alexander to play in Week 4 against the Bears. Asked about the possibility that the fracture could have gotten worse during his Week 3 play or even the practices leading up to it, one orthopedist said "Sure, it could, but it wasn't unstable. The question I would have is whether it's fusing already."
Indeed the question of fusion is as important as the question of location. Bones heal. It's that simple in most cases, especially with advanced techniques like electrical stimulation and prescription medications that can accelerate the process. Descriptions of the injury paint this as a stress fracture, one that resulted from what had initially been described as a bruise. Given the location, the non-displaced fracture (which means that the bone is more or less in the same line as anatomically normal), it is only the time frame for fusion that is in question. Alexander should be able to play as soon as the bone is fused enough to hold under the stress and workload of an NFL running back. That could be as little as Holmgren's "couple weeks" and as much as the eight weeks we saw Brian Westbrook miss with a more serious Lisfranc fracture. (Westbrook missed only four games due to the season ending but was estimated to be ready in eight weeks.) At this stage, it's impossible to say with any certainty, but the available information suggests more towards the optimistic side of that range.
Foot injuries to running backs can be painful injuries, but most recent comparable injuries have had good endings. Westbrook is just one who fully recovered. The database also shows Kevin Faulk as someone who missed time with a broken foot and returned to full function, though his nine-week rehabilitation has to give Seahawks fans pause. It's important to note that Alexander has healed quickly from previous injuries, which include minor knee and ankle injuries. It's one from 2002 that interests me -- he missed no time with a severely bruised foot.