After the NFL lockout, the CBA has shortened the lengths of mini-camps, OTA’s, training camp, and overall practices that coaches and players are allowed to participate in together. However, it also seems that every year more and more players are getting seriously injured in camp, as well as the preseason. Since the start of OTA’s, a total of 115 players have been injured and have missed time due to injury, and 13 of those players will miss the entire season. While the league and the NFLPA continue to propose and implement rules to protect players, more and more players get hurt in the preseason, and have had increasingly serious injuries. Now that the league and NFLPA are working on altering the amount of preseason and regular season games, it’s time to look into what the actual problem is.
The initial reason for the reform of training caps and the preseason was because of the death of Korey Stringer. Stringer was an offensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings for six years before he died from complications due to heat stroke during the Vikings’ training camp in 2001. Immediately after, the NFL decided to reform the way preseason programs were handled, requiring teams to train in light color uniforms, and provide water and shade regularly to the players. NFL teams had to reconsider the way that they handled their players, because often linemen were told to gain as much weight as they could, while still being athletic. Since Stringer’s death, the league has also implemented restrictions on two-a-day practices, the number of practices teams can have with coaches present, the number of days teams can participate in OTA’s, minicamps, and training camps, and other rules to try and restrict injuries to players.
However, despite all of the rule changes implemented to protect players, the number of injuries in the NFL continues to rise. The amount of injuries each year has increased, especially the amount that have occurred during practice. In fact in 2011, practice injuries made up 1/3 of the total injuries that year, totaling near 1,500 injuries. Not only has the amount of injuries risen each year, but the severity of those injuries has also increased. In 2000, the average injury caused a player to miss three weeks. However, in 2011, the average injury caused a player to miss 4.12 weeks and every position on the field, except special teams, has seen increases in the amount of injuries every year since 2000. The amount of players that were placed on IR has increased every year, with the most drastic jump between 2009 and 2010, when over 350 players were placed on IR, as opposed to 250 in 2009. The concussion rate has also risen, despite new equipment and rules designed to protect players from hits to the head. Last year, 7% of players suffered at least one concussion, and the percentage of players suffering season ending injuries was at an all-time high. However, it’s hard to believe reports from the NFL and NFLPA because each doctor their numbers in order to promote their own agenda.
The reality is that the NFLPA’s and player’s desire to have less practices have caused many of these freak, season-ending injuries so early in camp. Football is a game that requires hard cuts and explosion, which puts a lot of stress on knees, ankles, and ligaments and tendons in other crucial areas, such as labrums and Achilles tendons. The only way to really develop and strengthen the tendons and ligaments is to practice the way they are going to be used, which happens during practices and training camps. By limiting the amount of practices that players can have, the league has, in reality, caused more players to get injured because players are unprepared for the workload and movements that ”real speed” football requires. By limiting the amount of time that coaches can spend with players, teams rely on their players in order to be ready for team activities, and while many players train together, they aren’t able to replicate the speed and conditions of team activities, which take place in team facilities under the supervision of trainers, coaches, and specialists. Without the supervision of strength and conditioning coaches, as well as trainers, players are working unsupervised and this can leave them unprepared for the season.
While it is extremely unlikely, the only way to improve the injury problem that the NFL is having, is to increase the preseason workload of players. By limiting OTA’s, mini-camps, and training camps, the NFL and NFLPA have caused this recent epidemic of season ending injuries that happen before the season starts. Players are unprepared for the physical stress and challenges associated with training camp and are getting hurt more and more because of it. We can only hope, as fans, that the NFL doesn’t decide to shorten preseason programs during the next CBA, because if they do, it’s likely that more and more players will have serious or even season-ending injuries.