Garner Cleveland: Sports

Injuries impacting NFL players with local ties

Injuries are always the biggest news coming out of the August preseason schedule in the National Football League. This month has been no different, especially when it concerns area standouts.

Garner native Chris Culliver, a defensive back with the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, tore the ACL in his left knee on Aug. 1 and will miss the entire 2013 season.

Culliver started six games for the 49ers last season.

Across the bay in Oakland, an injury to starting offensive tackle Jared Veldheer has created an opportunity for those looking for more playing time or a regular-season roster spot – like North Johnston alum Willie Smith.

Smith started seven games for Oakland at right tackle last season, but the drafting of Menelik Watson by the Raiders this spring added more competition for playing time.

Smith saw a lot of action in the Raiders’ preseason opening win over the Cowboys. He played right tackle with the second-team offense, then spent much of the second half at left tackle with the third team.

Although a starting spot is what every player is after, the backups that stick through the three rounds of roster cuts in training camp are the ones who have versatility. For an offensive linemen, that means being able to play more than one position or side of the line when needed.

So if Smith can make the Raiders’ coaches happy on either end of the line, he’ll spend another season in silver and black.

Veteran Alex Barron is expected to fill in at Veldheer’s starting spot for the time being.

Garner’s Brandon Banks is still unsigned this summer after the Washington Redskins didn’t offer the speedy 5-foot-7 return man a contract at the end of the 2012 season. Like many unsigned veterans, Banks finds himself in the uneasy spot of waiting on somebody else to go down with an injury, forcing a team to look for a kick returner like Banks.

Seven-year veteran center Leroy Harris is vying for a spot with the Detroit Lions after a long run in Tennessee with the Titans. Harris was listed on the third team on the Lions’ depth chart Friday.