"This is no time to panic."
"THIS IS A PERFECT TIME TO PANIC!"
(If you don’t remember that line, may I recommend a film you should watch?)
The past few days have been just brutal on the New England Patriots roster. Over the weekend, Jim McBride of the Boston Globe ruined everyone’s Sunday Funday with a report that running back Dion Lewis needs another surgery that will land him on the PUP list, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is probably headed to injured reserve, and guard Shaq Mason broke his hand. In camp.
And then, in case you were having a good week, the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe reported today that the reason Jabaal Sheard was MIA during the Bears joint practices last week is that Sheard sprained his MCL and is probably going to miss anywhere from two to six weeks.
Put that together with Rob Ninkovich, who hasn’t missed a start since 2011, already being out with a torn tricep, and the fact that it seems like almost the whole team was injured last year, and the whole injury situation just seems too absurd to be real life.
Matt Chatham, a former Patriots linebacker and special teamer who you might know as "the tall bald guy on NESN", wrote a blog last summer trying to figure out why the heck so many guys were getting hurt in the preseason – and his theory might help explain this truckload of injuries too.
Right after Jordy Nelson tore his ACL last year, Chatham theorized on his (outstanding) blog, Football By Football, that it wasn’t the preseason games that were the problem – it’s that guys aren’t being properly conditioned to play the game. And that’s because of the practice restrictions that were part of the 2011 CBA…you know, the lockout one.
Let Chatham take it from here:
"But that (injuries) doesn’t change the fact that teams desperately need these preseason games – specifically because of the new practice restrictions born from the 2011 CBA extension, lowering the number of padded practices and significantly reducing the amount and type of contact in preseason (and in-season) work."
And just cutting down the preseason (which, obviously, will never happen) isn’t the solution either.
"Practice and practice games are critical training for players – physical preparation for a violent sport. You don’t magically get ‘safer’ to handle the requirements of a violent sport by training less and turning preparation of your body over to a total simulation. The reality of football is the best (and safest) way to prepare the body to withstand the real thing is to do the real thing."
Geez, sounds pretty simple when you put it that way.
Practicing to get concepts down is great, but the taking the hits, Matt writes, is actually what helps your body toughen up and endure in contact sports - which sounds like something from Friday Night Lights, but he says is the key:
"The one thing you can’t simulate in thud practices without live tackling is falling to the ground- whether it be for tackling or blocking reasons. And that’s what football is, and that’s what preseason games bring."
Comparing football to MMA fighting:
"Tumbling and falling happens hundreds (if not thousands) of times in training for that contact sport."
"You have to prepare your body for the chaos, and that’s really no different in either sport."
And the point is:
"But many injuries are a matter of the body simply not being prepared for the violence to the system that occurs in live action. To remove the preparation in hopes of removing the injury is simply not smart."
"The logic for a reduction to three (or even two) preseason games would be more sound as ‘safer’ if players were allowed to do live hitting and tackling in practice. But they aren’t."
Here’s the TL;DR version – Chatham’s theory is that since actual football practice time is so limited now, players are getting hurt left and right because their bodies aren’t as used to taking hits as they used to be. And then the injuries start coming because players haven’t conditioned enough to withstand the craziness of the NFL.
If he’s right, the Patriots should count themselves lucky that Jabaal, Dion, and Rob are at least all (probably) coming back later this year, and only Sebastian is landing on IR.