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.