Over the past couple of days, one of the themes of Cowboys training camp has been the number of injured players on the roster. And because headlines about the impending Apocalypse (see CBSSports' "Cowboys' woes continue: Ezekiel Elliot out with hamstring injury") always do better than a story about DE Tyrone Crawford returning to practice, we find ourselves in a constant state of alarm about the Cowboys.
And that constant state of alarm leads to all sorts of panic-induced mental short-circuiting (see: "How Dwight Freeney Should Be The Cowboys Answer" or "With Kellen Moore Hurt, Jones Must Call Nick Foles."), which in turn induces immediate panic among the fan base, which will inevitably call for the signing of the next best guy that comes to mind.
Against that backdrop, it's worth looking back at previous years to understand whether the Cowboys have been hit particularly hard this year, or whether the injury rate is just the normal attrition level that's to be expected in an NFL training camp - and whether we're all just hyperventilating again thanks to the alarmist headlines competing for our clicks.
The league doesn't require teams to release injury reports during training camp, so we can't compare the Cowboys numbers to those of other teams. But if we look at how many injured players the Cowboys had after the Blue/White scrimmage in each of the past years, we'll get a pretty good idea of how the injury rates compare. What we know is that the Cowboys had 14 players on their injury report at this stage of camp in 2013, 18 players at this stage in 2014, and 16 players last year. This year, the number on the injury report is 15 players, excluding all players taking a rest day. Keep in mind though, the injury report numbers cover a different number of practices in each year:
2013: Seven practices (Incl. Blue/White scrimmage)
2014: Eleven practices (Incl. Blue/White scrimmage and the two practices after that)
2015: Ten practices (Incl. Blue/White scrimmage and one practice after that)
2016: Eight practices (Incl. Blue/White scrimmage)
So through yesterday's scrimmage, the Cowboys injury number is pretty much in line with that of the last few years. But a closer look at the injury reports from all four years shows that the difference in the number of injured players is less about the quantity of injuries and about the injury status of each player:
|Day-to-day||J. Hanna||M. Claiborne||D. Bryant||DE||T. Crawford||Back|
|C. Beasley||S. Moore||L. Dunbar||RB||E. Elliott||Hamstring|
|D. Bryant||T. Patmon||O. Scandrick||DT||T. McClain||Toe|
|D. Coale||J. Hamilton||N. Hayden||WR||D. Street||Back|
|M. Bernadeau||M. Johnson||D. Free||DT||C. Thornton||Illness|
|R. Leary||B. Bass||D. Lawrence||DE||K. Wilber||Back|
|L.P. Ladouceur||G. Selvie||J. Randle|
|R. Cook||B. Gardner||A. Goodley|
|I. Igbinosun||R. McClain||J. Wetzel|
|Out 1-2 weeks||J. Parnell||T. McClain||T. McClain|
|J. Ratliff||D. Weems|
|Out indefinitely||A. Spencer||D. Lawrence||K. Boatright||DT||M. Collins*||Foot|
|T. Crawford**||S. Lee**||B. Carr||RB||L. Dunbar*||Knee|
|C. Whaley**||C. Whaley**||TE||J. Hanna*||Knee|
|A. Spencer*||C. Green*||DE||B. Mayowa*||Knee|
|A. Okoye||R. McClain*||RB||D. McFadden*||Elbow|
|D. McFadden*||LB||J. Smith*||Knee|
|M. Nzeocha*||LB||D. Wilson*||Eye|
|* PUP/NFI, **Out for Season|
The thing that immediately stands out about the 2016 injury list is that it has just six players listed as day-to-day and none listed as "out 1-2 weeks". That's a four-year low in "minor" injuries, and quite a bit better than the next-lowest total over the previous three years, the 10 injuries in 2015. So that is good news, as practices so far have resulted in fewer minor injuries than in previous years.
The downside of course is that it looks like the Cowboys have a record number of players out indefinitely this year. The nine players marked in red in the table above are a four-year high, and as you look at the overall amount serious injuries (marked here in red) 2016 looks like a catastrophic year, but the numbers are a bit misleading: Seven of the nine players listed in red entered camp on the PUP/NFI list, and all are expected to return at some point. That leaves only Andrew Gachkar (out three to four weeks with a fractured thumb) and Kellen Moore out for an extended period.
In the grand scheme of things, Moore's injury is the only serious injury the Cowboys have suffered so far. And while Moore's injury dominated headlines last week, he was a backup fighting to maintain his spot on the depth chart. Compared to previous seasons where presumptive starters were lost for the season or large parts of it, the Cowboys look to be in better shape overall.
Injuries become more noticeable when they disproportionately affect a specific position group, and this year the front seven carries that dubious distinction. Already shorthanded by suspensions and absences from camp, injuries and a cautious training staff has left the front seven a bit undermanned. But most of the players are nursing day-to-day injuries that should see them back at practice shortly.
As was reported earlier, Tyrone Crawford should be returning to practice on Tuesday. That is huge news, his presence is one of the keys for the season on defense. Cedric Thornton has been out with an illness, and Terrell McClain has also missed time with a toe injury but should be returning soon.
One player that we haven’t seen yet might be back sooner than later. So all eyes will be on Mayowa once he gets back to action in training camp, and that could be happening in a matter of days.
Not to be forgotten is another defensive linemen who the Cowboys have put a lot of faith in, third-round pick Maliek Collins. His injury will keep him out a little longer, but he’s not too far away from getting back into action.
Football is a violent sport in which injuries happen. It feels like the Cowboys have been hit hard by injuries once again this year, but the numbers suggest that this is more about a regular attrition rate than about any serious injury problem. And as more players return to practice over the coming days, the Cowboys may well be healthier than at any time they've been over the last four years.