This is not a sexy topic, and macho men are going to be slow to embrace some of these concepts. Still, if you are a Packers fan, you should be trying to send this message to the club’s management: injuries, and playing time lost due to them, can be measurably cut back – and perhaps significantly – if the team were to adopt sound safety principles and programs.
Some preliminaries. Certain football injuries are neither predictable, nor preventable, to any significant degree. But some are. For examples, I don’t think broken fingers or ACL tears can be predicted, or prevented to any appreciable extent. On the other hand, many concussions can be prevented, and I believe there are exercises that can be done aimed at reducing hamstring injuries.
As I stated in the previous post, it’s a matter of mathematical probabilities. If you reduce the hazards, over time the injuries are going to decrease. The improvements might be hard to chart, and subject to debate. There will still be bad injury years mixed in with the good years, and there will be some players who defy all the tell-tale signs and risks. But players will miss fewer games if injury reduction steps are taken. I guarantee it.
My background as a safety manager makes me know this to be true. I warned you this won’t be a sexy or titillating topic. If you’re still reading, let’s get to work.
In my previous post, I argued that Packers management should strive to avoid acquiring players with a past troubled health history. Now I’ll address some more ways football injuries can be prevented or minimized.
I don’t have statistics on this for you, but does anyone doubt that as football players get older they become more susceptible to injuries? Often as a player approaches his thirties, the slight injuries and conditions that he’s accumulated in past years become major injuries or physical breakdowns. There might be no broken bones or ligament tears, but at best older players get gimpy and less adept at doing their demanding jobs; at worst, their careers come to a rapid end.
A good example would be Green Bay offensive linemen.
Crusty guard Josh Sitton is now 32. He never missed more than two games in his first eight seasons. He moved on to Chicago and in his next three seasons he missed 3, 3, and 15 games – and played hurt in many others. It was a torn rotator cuff that quickly ended his 2018 season. Sitton is now shopping for his fourth team since 2015.
The point is that Sitton’s body wore down as he aged and as all those collisions took their toll. The Packers were smart to deal him away when the battered star was still under 30.
Ten-year veteran tackle T.J. Lang is now 31. In his first seven years he only missed more than one game once. In years eight and nine he missed three games each time – much like Sitton. In 2018, his second season with the Lions, over the first six games he incurred head, back, and neck injuries, then sat out three games, and finally was placed on injured reserve. Once again the Packers parted ways at the right time – after eight years. Lang is now a free agent, and he’s not drawing much interest.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, age 30 on March 21,is an eight-year Packer veteran – nine if you count 2013, when he missed the entire season with a torn ACL. He also missed all but five games in 2017, again with a torn ACL. He’s a dogged player, but the years of physical warfare have broken him down. No one should expect him to ever again have an injury-free season. This year is the final one of his five-year deal. It’s up in the air whether the Packers will keep him or release him.
Age is an obvious factor that any team interested in reducing injuries should take into account. Packers’ managers, both old and new, seem to have recognized pretty well that having older players on the roster means more missed games, and more guys playing at less than full strength.
The smaller a player is, and the less musculature he has, it stands to reason he’s going to be more susceptible to injury. If this is so obvious, then why it is so often ignored when teams acquire such players?
The Packers have several examples to point to in recent years. I did an article on this in early 2017.
Included on my list were: Makinton Dorleant (182 pounds), Sam Shields (184); Trevor Davis and Herb Waters (188); Josh Hawkins (189); Randall Cobb (192); Quinten Rollins, Jermaine Whitehead, and Jared Abbrederis (195); Damarious Randall (196); and Micah Hyde and Demetri Goodson (197). Micah is about the only one of the dozen to defy the injury odds.
Signing up so many players weighing under 200 is begging for trouble. I realize that 190 pounds is a pretty average weight for cornerbacks around the league, but I’d be looking for someone closer to 200 at free agent and draft times.
Here are some defensive backs who have more desirable weights: Landon Collins (222); Derwin James (215); Harrison Smith (214); Jamal Adams (213); Jalen Ramsey (208); Malcolm Jenkins (204); Patrick Peterson (203); and Stephon Gilmore (202). Not so coincidentally, they were all named to the NFC or AFC 2019 Pro Bowl team.
Most concerning to me on the list is Abbrederis, who is 6’1” tall, and was so under-developed he could only do four bench press reps. He simply lacked the physique to play in the NFL. I’d put 6’1” Trevor Davis and 6’ Herb Waters in the same category.
Recently departed Randall Cobb did put on some muscle since becoming a pro, but his lack of size has been catching up with him: 10 games missed in 2013, 3 in 2016, 2 in 2017, and 7 more last season.
I’m encouraged to see that the Pack’s new safety, Adrian Amos, is a sturdy 6’ and 214 pounds – I trust he’ll be applying the hits, not taking them. He’s almost 20 pounds heavier than Damarious Randall, who will next be playing safety for the Browns.
Several others on the above list have been more injured than not since joining the league, and several are no longer in the league. This should come as no surprise – this isn’t flag football.
Special Teams Players
The league has acknowledged that kickoff and punt returns are among the most dangerous football plays. What can be done, that the league hasn’t already done, to reduce injuries to special teams players?
First, try to keep your starters, and especially your key players, off these teams – several teams are already doing this. While I’d love to see Jaire Alexander returning punts, I don’t think I want him regularly doing this. Let him do it in critical moments of a game, or only during the playoffs; otherwise, preserve him for his primary job.
As for kickoffs, if the kick carries into the end zone, down it. I believe a number of teams already have a policy of doing so, especially if they don’t have an electrifying return man – and it mostly eliminates those dreaded holding penalties. It makes sense from a health standpoint too.
I don’t think punt returns pose near the dangers of kick returns, but some might even advocate taking “fair catches” whenever possible.
Yes, violence is part of the attraction of NFL football. But the ever-increasing injuries are in danger of compromising the game. It’s getting to be that the healthiest teams have better chances of winning it all than do the teams with the most talent on their rosters.
Ex-football players, who mostly constitute NFL coaching staffs, are going to be a tough group to convince that applying safety principles will produce more wins.
Tomorrow I’ll bring up several more ways that NFL teams can keep their players on the field, and out of the operating room.
If I read this right, bigger, younger and not previously injured is better?
You are correct sir – that’s a big part of it. I’ve provided evidence that the Packers under GM Ted Thompson did not heed the first precept. Bringing in guys like Wilkerson, Graham, and House went against the second, and as I pointed out in the first of the three safety articled (Are the Packers Finally Strategizing to Reduce Player Injuries?) the Packers drafting and/or retaining “Red Flags” players violated the third precept. Your reading comprehension is excellent.
The fact that the pool of recently signed FA’s aren’t bringing a cabinet full of medical files with them is encouraging.
I don’t understand why you aren’t working for the Packers Mr. Born. Another fantastic article! Just can’t understand why the Packers didn’t think of this in the past. Other teams must be doing this.
I could have worked for the Packers as their new GM, i was in play after Ted was “reassigned”. But they balked at my demand for 5 years 90 million fully guaranteed. Plus the fact they aren’t impressed with common sense, fiscal responsibility, logical thinking, and intelligent player acquisition. So that didn’t work in my favor.
When they told me my powers would be limited as Mark would have to put a stamp on all moves made, i balked anyway, that’s when things got heated and i said “Listen, i’ll take a pass, but let me know how that new system works out for you at the end of the 2018 season.”
Lol. I think you would have been worth at least 430 million like the Troutman.
Every team in the league should employ a safety manager – as I have been. It would be the best investment the club has ever made!
Great piece. Too bad the pack didnt use the research of the poster (howard?) who has taken a dive in to the world of patella tendon injuries.
I was the one who brought up the Patellar tendon injury.
My guess is the reason the Saints traded Graham to the Seahawks is because Graham was having problems with Patellar tendonitis, among other injuries. When the Saints traded Graham to the Seahawks there were some articles that the Saints were concerned that Graham was breaking down physically. The Saints were concerned at the time Graham’s body would not hold up through his contract.
Patellar Tendonitis is also known as jumpers knee and if not treated early can lead to Patellar ruptures. Jumpers knee occurs in basketball and volleyball players. Guess what sport Graham played in college and earlier? Basketball.
Are all basketball players that turn to football a potential Patellar tendon rupture candidate. Probably not, but if you want to lessen the risk I would avoid long term basketball players turned football players, and we know who liked basketball players.
Concussions. The Seahawks have changed their tackling culture and have engaged in “Hawk Tackling” for a number of years. Hawk tackling are tackling techniques whose goal is to keep the head out of a tackle by using rugby type tackling. As a high school football coach I’ve embraced those tackling techniques and last year was the first year in years we didn’t have a single concussion in our program. This could be anecdotal but it could be, and I’m hoping this is the case, the change in techniques that played a major role in the decrease of concussions. I would be interested to see a comparison between the number of concussion the Seahawks have and NFL who have not embraced those practices. I haven’t seen evidence the Packers have embraced the above mentioned techniques.
Nasir Adderley (S) couldn’t fully participate at the Combine due to an ankle injury and his recent Pro Day was scuttled by a hamstring. He has all the makings of a perfect Packer. He brings the dreaded hammy to the table right from the get go. He and Kevin King could alternate turns in the hot tub-keep overhead down.
Therefore the preference for Abram or Chauncy-Gardener at the safety position in this draft. Fast and solid frames. Hitters, not huggers.
Omigosh but haven’t you read all the other Packer forums? This dude compares in like a bunch of DNA circles with 205 centiMorgans across 13 segments with the great Herb Adderley!! That right there means he just has to be taken by the Pack. Legacy baby.
But seriously. After reading Rob’s piece and seeing your post, I’d take a strong pass on Nasir Adderley. If at the moment of decision you also have Chauncey Gardner-Johnson “Being There”, then by all means you go with CGJ.
Along with age increasing injury risk I’ll add this: As you get older you heal slower. There are lots of injuries that just don’t make it onto the injury report at all. Bruises and stiffness and whatnot. I’ve seen interviews with young RBs saying they do don’t hardly move on Monday and Tuesday they are so sore and basically get back up to 100% a day or two before actual game day. Granted, RBs getting hit a lot. Still, if at 31 or 32 this healing takes a couple days longer then, totally besides lost speed and strength with age, there is further lost speed and strength from failure to heal up fully the injuries that don’t make the report.
Which means older players are often or most often playing less than 100% which can’t help.