Is this the end for Mike Alstott? He doesn't even want to think about it.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday placed the six-time Pro Bowl fullback on injured reserve with a neck problem. Alstott said it is not related to a career-threatening injury that required surgery in 2003.
``The facts are the facts. I can't put on the helmet and jersey this year,'' the 33-year-old Alstott said. ``One thing is, you don't mess with the neck. There are always situations where it can be worsened by playing. It is a severe injury and it's a situation you don't mess with.''
But Alstott, arguably the most popular player in team history, couldn't bring himself to say he may have played his last game. The team's second all-time rusher with 5,088 yards had been preparing for his 12th season, but became concerned when soreness in his neck persisted as training camp progressed at Disney World.
Tests performed by team doctors revealed a new problem, and the decision to place him on IR was made after Alstott consulted with his personal surgeon, who operated on the fullback during the 2003 season.
``I just want to tell everyone I was ready to play football this year. My mind was set: 'I'm playing this game and I'm helping this team.' It's not like I went out there and the body wasn't working,'' Alstott said.
All-Pro guard Shawn Andrews is out indefinitely and tight end L.J. Smith aggravated a sports hernia, adding to the list of injured Philadelphia Eagles.
Andrews is bothered by a right ankle injury, the same one he hurt in Week 1 of his rookie season in 2004. He was examined by an ankle specialist on Wednesday and returned to camp Thursday with a walking boot and crutches. It's uncertain how long Andrews will be sidelined.
``(His ankle) will continue to be monitored and evaluated over the next several days,'' coach Andy Reid said in a statement. ``He will rest it during that time.''
Smith, who had surgery for a sports hernia in the offseason, left the field after a non-contact drill during the morning practice. Rookie running back Tony Hunt also left the morning session with an ankle sprain.
Six-time Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins also remained sidelined with a sore Achilles' tendon.
Linebacker Willie McGinest was scheduled to have back surgery Thursday and will miss at least six weeks, another blow to a Cleveland team decimated by major injuries the past few seasons.
After a week of rest following the procedure on a bulging disk, he'll begin rehab and the Browns will re-evaluate the 35-year-old McGinest in six weeks. McGinest, who has made 159 starts during a 13-year NFL career, has been dealing with back issues for several seasons. Earlier this week he asked the Browns for permission to see his personal physician in California.
Coach Romeo Crennel said there are no immediate plans to put McGinest on injured reserve.
``He's going to come back and we're going to try to get him ready to play the rest of the season,'' he said. ``Backs are backs and they are fickle sometimes. But after the first six weeks we'll see how the rehab is going and that will be an indicator as how soon he'll be back.''
Backup linebacker Matt Stewart had surgery to repair a torn muscle in his left shoulder and will likely be placed on injured reserve.
Rookie linebacker Lawrence Timmons, limited to three practice days since being the 15th player selected in the April draft, is expected to resume practicing next week.
Timmons initially hurt his groin on the first day of a mandatory minicamp May 11. He took part in the first two days of training camp last month, but has been out since the discomfort and swelling in the groin returned on July 26.
When the pain persisted into this week, the Steelers sent Timmons to Dr. Bill Meyers, a groin and abdominal specialist who has treated numerous NFL, NBA, NHL and college players. Timmons was told he doesn't have a tear or a sports hernia.
Timmons was expected to press for playing time at right outside linebacker, where James Harrison has replaced Joey Porter, who is now with Miami. Timmons has fallen behind due to his lack of practice time, not only in camp but during the team's voluntary spring workouts.
``Obviously, he's behind,'' coach Mike Tomlin said. ``But he's a smart guy, a talented guy. He has a chance to make it up.''
Players seemed to take a little extra time heading down the hill for practice Thursday afternoon - and for good reason.
It was 104 degrees with a heat index of 115. And unlike Wednesday's non-padded practice when it was 102 degrees with a heat index of 114, the Panthers were in full pads this time.
Coach John Fox shortened the workout by about 20 minutes and added water breaks, including one break where players were allowed to go in a tent. But other than that, it was business as usual.
``They did good. They sucked it up,'' Fox said. ``We cut it back a little bit as far as time. We took precautions as far as cooling them off and I thought they fought through it good.''
The Panthers have reported no heat-related problems despite three consecutive days of 100-degree weather.
With the preseason opener at Oakland two days away, the rookies may be starting to feel some butterflies. Count new coach Ken Whisenhunt among them.
``I'm sure a lot of the young guys will be very excited because it will be their first chance to play,'' Whisenhunt said. ``And a lot of us young, new coaches will be excited because it's our first chance to coach.''
It will be the first game as a head coach at any level for the 45-year-old Whisenhunt, who was hired last winter to replace Dennis Green. Whisenhunt's first adjustment will be working on the sideline; as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator the last three seasons, he watched games from the press box.
``It's going to be different,'' Whisenhunt said. ``I'm used to being in the flow of the game as coordinator. Now, having other things to worry about will be a little bit different.''

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