Recently Fox23 out of Tulsa, Oklahoma ran a report that examined the cause and effect of the large number of injuries that are being experienced in training camps around the NFL. One question that is being asked is could the new collective bargaining agreement, which in theory was supposed to increase a player's chances of reaching the regular season in relative health, be behind the onslaught? Although there seems to be nothing on the record, it is widely speculated that several coaches around the NFL have complained privately that the new limitations on practice are having the opposite effect to what was intended. One of the top orthopaedic surgeons in the country, Dr. David Geier, confirmed for Fox23 that he feels that the restrictions in the new CBA are at least partially to blame. Let's dig a little deeper.
Arrival in training camp is a shock to the athlete's system; in fact, the Fox report compared it to jumping into an ice cold shower. The players go through a series of Organized Team Activities during the off season, and then take an extended break away from football. Coming off of this hiatus, the CBA calls for two days of pad-free practice to allow the players to acclimate themselves once again to football. At that point the hitting begins. Dr. Geier explains:
"Time away can play a role," Geier explained. "It's a possibility it could be a cause but I think for different reasons than a coach might think. It's not like these guys are sitting around on couches for weeks but the one thing you can't replicate is the repetition during team activities. The ability to run, cut and plant your foot with a defender there."
Football, as we all know, is a violent game that requires players to make a series of spontaneous movements which are not necessarily easy to recreate outside of a practice environment. According to Geier, most of the movements a player makes are based on muscle memory, and that is why teams are now seeing a spike during the first ten or so days of practice.
One unnamed reporter out of Philadelphia summed up what it is like for beat writers covering training camps around the league:
Sometimes life on the NFL beat feels a bit macabre. You show up at training camp, grab a roster and start checking off names to see who is and who isn't practicing that day.
Injuries are always the headline of any camp and too often the job becomes a waiting game, almost a biding of time until the next hamstring or calf is tweaked.
Those are the good days. The bad ones involve torn ACLs or ruptured Achilles tendons and reporters around the league haven't been kept waiting long in 2013.
A brief look at ESPN's daily injury report shows just how serious the "camp injury" issue has become. In spite of an ongoing trend of increasing injuries during the preseason, some team executives are still in denial. The Oakland Raiders are one franchise that is giving the issue the ostrich treatment. From the Washington Post; in a piece by Cindy Boren, who seems to believe the "fecal matter occurs" theory:
"I just think it’s a fluke," Oakland General Manager Reggie McKenzie told CBSSports.com’s Mike Freeman. "What we’re doing in the OTAs and offseason and minicamp … it’s not overworking. It’s not nearly like it was in the years before. That’s when you banged a whole lot more, yet the injuries were not there."
"But as far as training and medical differences … medically, you’re doing a whole lot more and better stuff, like better stretching. Plus, I’ve seen how much better the weight lifting is now, where it’s core training and different movement — a lot of prepping before practice. No, this is better. It’s got to be a fluke."
It seems that what is clear to most of the league is clouded for others. Five days into their training camp, the Raiders have been fortunate. As of yesterday, they have only lost two guys. Both of them are day to day. You have to wonder how McKenzie would feel about the issue if he was facing an issue like the ones facing the Redskins and Eagles. On the other hand, we also need to remember how long the league kept it's collective head buried in the sand regarding the concussion issue.
The fact that, in Dr. Geier's observations, there is a spike of injuries during the first ten days or so of training camp should open some eyes. The fact that there is a discernible spike flies right in the face of the random "it happens" theory. It is time for both the owners and the NFL Player's Association to take a proactive step by setting down and negotiating an amendment to the CBA. It stands to reason that if the root cause of the injuries teams are experiencing is muscle memory related; then something has to be done to allow the athletes to regain that muscle memory in a highly controlled environment. The easiest solution would be to move the last round of OTAs to the week before the official start of training camp, and perhaps even making it a mandatory event. After all, maintaining player health is in everyone's best interest.
As Cowboys fans, we have experienced more than our fair share of injuries. I'm sure that most of you are as frustrated as I am, so jump right in and give us your thoughts about the injury crisis.