"Having your best players injured is not the way any team wants to spend the season, but to their credit, the young players who have been coming in have really stepped up," said head coach Dick Jauron. "They are working hard. As the injured players begin to come back, there will be some competition for starting jobs. This can be a good thing. The fact that the newer players are doing so well is giving the veterans something to think about."
Keith Traylor, who has been out over a month with a knee problem, has his own view of the situation.
"Heck, I taught these rookies everything they know," Traylor said. "No wonder they're good."
Traylor has found his role as an observer to be difficult at times and is anxious to return to the lineup.
"If you watch, you definitely just want to be in there," Traylor said. "I'm an athlete and I want to be playing. It can be incredibly frustrating just waiting to heal. That's why I've been working so hard to rehabilitate. I feel that I have a lot to contribute to this team."
So when will he be ready?
"It's hard to say," Traylor noted. "It is a decision among the coaches, the trainers, and myself. You don't want to be in the situation where you are going to do more damage, but you don't want to be out too long either. It's really a day to day situation. A lot depends on my range of motion and my comfort level."
Anthony Thomas, who was on the practice field today for the first time since injuring his foot against New Orleans, agrees.
"Man, I'm so glad to be out there again. Today I felt pretty good. There really wasn't much discomfort other than being a little stiff. We'll wait and see just how things go this week."
Has the recent success of Brock Forsey, who started last week against Detroit, put additional pressure on Thomas for a speedy recovery?
"I am glad that Brock has been doing well," Thomas said. "He has stepped up and has contributed a lot to the team. But I certainly would like to be back out there as a starter as soon as possible. I feel that my physical abilities will be right back where they should be. Right now I feel good making the cuts and get the acceleration that I need. I'm eager to go. Whether or not that means I'll be out there this Sunday has not been decided yet."
Rookie LB Joe Odom has felt surprisingly comfortable as a starter in place of Holdman.
"Any new player would tell you that playing time is vital. So much of the progress that you are able to make as a rookie depends on getting game time experience," Odom says. "It's all about learning at NFL speed. You can practice all that you want, but it just isn't the same. When you are in a game situation, when what you do really counts, that's when your learning curve takes off."
Although Warrick Holdman has been patiently prowling the sidelines watching Odom work, he, like Thomas, feels that it is time for the veterans to return.
"I'm competitive," Holdman said. "Joe's a competitor, too. If he thinks that he wants my job, Odom is going to have to fight for it. The coaches feel that I'll be able to return with all of the physical skills that I had earlier in the season. The sooner the better because every week counts. I'm not satisfied just watching my teammates play. I want to be out there doing my part."
Holdman is aware, however, that being overly eager to return to the lineup can be problematic.
"There is a fine line between playing when you are physically able to, or pushing things by starting too soon," he said. "A lot of players in the NFL go back prematurely and aggravate the physical problem they were having. Then you are out twice as long. Right now, I think that I'm at about 70%. My ankle is sore and I'm trying to work through that. It's best to take things day by day just to be sure. The coaches and I will be meeting to discuss that sometime this week."