THE AFTERNOON PAPER: Is it all starting to slowly crumble - already?

If you've read our position previews, you've seen one common theme pop up over and over again: Health will be paramount to this team's chances for any kind of respectability this season. We all know the Cougs simply don't possess the depth to compete if even a few of their top players miss game time.

So, while camp got off to a good start on the injury front, a good number of question marks have started to creep in. It's not all doom and gloom -- the team has yet to suffer a catastrophic injury that requires surgery or such, which is good -- but it's enough that, with just about a week to go until Stanford, I'm starting to get a little nervous.

The most significant injury of camp came yesterday, when it was discovered that the sprained ankle starting cornerback Brandon Jones suffered on Tuesday could sideline him anywhere from one to three weeks. Jones had established himself as the team's best corner in camp.

No, the injury's not devastating -- Chima Nwachukwu, who obviously has a lot of starting experience at corner, slides into Jones' spot, and the team seems to feel comfortable with Tyree Toomer or LeAndre Daniels filling in for Nwachukwu at safety. And it's not like Stanford is likely to chuck it 40 times next weekend with a freshman quarterback and Toby Gerhart in the backfield.

But it's part of a growing list of nicks and bruises -- which looks worse when put together as below -- that could either cause players to miss game time or limit their effectiveness. These are just the guys who figured to get significant playing time against Stanford:

  • Running back James Montgomery sprained a knee last Friday, and I believe he's still out of practice, as I can't find an update on his prognosis. (EDIT: Per Grippi, he is indeed still sitting out practice, doing some light jogging on the side.)
  • Wide receiver Jeshua Anderson has been battling a hamstring injury for a couple of weeks now, and has only recently resumed straight-line running activities. He appears on target for the Stanford game, but if you remember back to track season, a hamstring was bothering him then, too. I don't know if it's the same leg or not, but one has to wonder if this is going to be a chronic issue with the team's most experienced receiver.
  • Wide receiver Daniel Blackledge, who had been the best receiver in camp early on after a strong offseason, has only recently returned uninhibited to practice after suffering a leg injury.
  • Other receivers still not at full speed include Johnny Forzani (foot) and Jeffrey Solomon (back).
  • Linebacker Andy Mattingly has only recently returned to full practice after suffering a groin injury. By all accounts, the team is just taking it slowly with him, but muscle injuries such as this always possess the potential for re-aggravation. (See Anderson, Jeshua.)
  • Starting middle linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis has been suffering through a foot problem that kept him on the sidelines for the last week. He's returned to limited practice now that a more serious injury has been ruled out, and could be ready for Stanford.
  • Running back Marcus Richmond -- a versatile back who generally serves as the team's full back when it needs one (he threw the block that sprung Logwone Mitz in the Apple Cup) -- appears to be out for "a while" (Grippi's words), also with a sprained ankle. Not sure if he's on the same timetable as Jones.
  • Starting right tackle Micah Hannam has flu-like symptoms. And since we've all been there with the flue and know that it can take up to a week or more to recover, there's certainly a possibility that Hannam won't be at peak effectiveness for Stanford.

It's not like any of this is completely unexpected -- injuries are going to happen, it's a fact of football -- and again, I'm as thankful as anyone that none of these are catastrophic and don't figure to have long-term effects. But if even half of these injuries have effects that carry over into Stanford (or beyond), it's going to make an already uphill climb even steeper. We need these guys to be as close to 100 percent as possible to have a shot at the Cardinal.

Here's the best of the rest of the day's Cougar news from around the Web:

  • Mattingly told Ted Miller at ESPN.com that the Cougs will surprise people in the Pac-10. (No surprise there.)
  • Jim Moore's unemployment checks must be running out, because that slacker churned out two columns in two days: one on reasons to be optimistic about the direction of the team (for the P-I) and one on guard B.J. Guerra (for Cougfan.com).
  • The San Francisco Chronicle has this preview of Stanford, which has to include the best written line of training camp. Bonus points to the reader who finds it and posts it in the comments.
  • Speaking of Stanford, San Jose Mercury News college football writer takes umbrage with Jim Harbaugh's new $50,000 bathroom.
  • The Sporting News has a "Best of the Pac-10" list, and guess what? The Cougs actually had one mention! (A darn good choice, if you ask me.)
  • Miller ranked each school in terms of its running backs unit. WSU checked in at No. 7. Seems fair to me, although it's not a stretch to see that ranking being higher by the end of the season.

We'll be back later.

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