The Big Ten isn’t giving me much to write about this week.
While some teams have been unable to completely avoid major injuries (such as Michigan OT Grant Newsome suffering a season-ending knee injury last season and Iowa still adjusting to life after Matt VandeBerg), most of the conference’s highest-impact players are healthy.
Considering we are entering Week 6, it’s a surprising degree of collective health.
Wisconsin RB Corey Clement is back and seems to be well past his ankle issue. The quarterbacks are almost all healthy. Whole teams are ready to go with only minor injuries.
This is a big testament to the league and to the medical staffs that work hard all year long without much attention. A lack of injuries makes them even more important and invisible, all at once. Let’s take a look at some of the most noteworthy injury situations around the conference:
Tommy Armstrong, QB, Nebraska
“Not serious” and “in a walking boot” might seem diametrically opposed, but walking boots are like Halloween candy in a modern training room. You show up with something lower body, even a simple sprained ankle, and you’re getting a walking boot. That being said, with a week off, the Cornhuskers are going to be very conservative with Armstrong in hopes that everything clears up and he has his full mobility. Even coach Mike Riley told reporters on Friday that if Nebraska did have to play this weekend, he is unsure whether Armstrong could play. We’ll have to see when he’s back in full practice, but with Indiana’s high-powered passing attack coming up after the bye, Armstrong is going to have to be ready to throw early and often.
The opposite of depth is an injury stack. That’s what Nebraska is dealing with at the receiver position, including at tight end. Four injuries to the guys that Armstrong is hoping to target is a big problem, obviously, since the depth chart doesn’t go much further than that. The week off buys the Huskers some time, but some of these injuries are very concerning.
The most serious is the back injury Jordan Westerkamp suffered last weekend after a hit against Illinois. He was taken to the hospital as a precaution, but tests there came out well enough that he wasn’t held. The Huskers have given no details on the injury, but the trip to the hospital indicates they at least worried about some spinal involvement. It could be a “spinal concussion”, where the cord is shocked by a hit and loses function for a brief instant. If Westerkamp misses any time, he’ll fall further behind the record pace he needed to put his name in the Nebraska books.
If Westerkamp misses time, which is likely, then getting Brandon Reilly (hamstring strain) and Alonzo Moore (shoulder strain) back to healthy is even more key. Add in Cethan Carter, the big TE who suffered a shoulder sprain on an awkward tackle, and it’s going to be a busy time for the medical staff in the next week. I should also note that Devine Ozigbo, the power back that could match up well against the quick Indiana defense, is dealing with an ankle sprain of his own.
Drake Johnson, RB, Michigan
Johnson still hasn’t played this season and there are questions about whether he will take the field this week. He’d definitely be in the mix if he was healthy, but he continues to deal with the “soft tissue” injury that has held him out since his offseason forklift accident. Johnson was expected to debut against Penn State last month, but there were also some rumors that the Wolverines were looking into a medical redshirt for Johnson. In that case, he might be a “break glass” player for Jim Harbaugh right now, which would explain his usage — or non-usage thus far.