After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?
24 Aug 2005
by Will Carroll
In my first year of doing Under The Knife for Baseball Prospectus, I had the chance to go to Wrigley Field as a reporter. It was during an interleague series with the Rangers and it's still a blur to me. Still in town, I was listening on the radio as it was announced that Daryl Kile had passed. I knew that I'd have to write about it yet I had no idea how to deal with it.
I still don't.
When I heard that a 49er had collapsed in the locker room and died, it was the same feeling all over again. Kile's death, Steve Bechler's death, all of them seem senseless and serve as reminders that we only have a limited amount of time here. Thomas Herrion died pursuing a dream. We don't know that he wouldn't have had the same thing happen if he was riding a bus rather than sitting in the locker room of an NFL team. It's small consolation to his friends and family, but for a man who was willing to literally give it all on the field, it's poetic. It's also a reminder that football is a dangerous game. Forget the hits, the stress, and the injuries. The toll put on their bodies by the sheer size is often too much. Human bodies aren't meant to carry so much muscle, to do the things these players ask their body to do each and every day. It's testament to the medical teams that we don't have to write more obituaries.
Let's get down to it:
With an elbow injury this weekend, Eli Manning put the scare in the Giants fans nearly equivalent to the one they took when they saw Pro Football Prospectus' projections for his second season. Manning took an awkward hit, hyper-extending his elbow during the delivery while twisted. There was some damage inside, with a mild (Grade I) sprain and some bruising due both to the collision and some light internal bleeding. Reports that Manning had a "sprain, but no tear" show a lack of knowledge on the part of some reporters; a sprain is a tear, though many only say tear for a complete, Grade III tear where the ligament loses all structural integrity. Manning will miss a couple weeks while it heals, but shouldn't have too much problem once the elbow is pain free and has returned to its full range of motion.
There is something like karma in the NFL. Julius Peppers hurts Eli Manning and Peppers ends up injured himself. Things like this turn up more often than not, often due to the immense preparation these athletes do. Change something -- like lining up against the backup who has different moves and tendencies -- and something bad can happen. Peppers returned a fumble and exacerbated an already sore ankle. Peppers sprained the ankle early in training camp, but was wearing a heavy immobilizing boot on Monday. The Panthers will be extremely conservative with him despite the "mild" tag on the sprain, so don't worry too much when he skips the next meaningless ... err, pre-season game.
There's a delicious irony in a power tight end being felled by a broken pinkie. Tony Gonzalez will be held out of at least one more game while his finger heals. The good news in this bad news is it allows a little more time for his surgically repaired foot to heal while not being a serious injury that should carry over. Gonzalez shouldn't be affected by the finger injury, helped by the fact that Trent Green is known for having good touch on his passes, making them easy for his receivers to catch despite whizzing through defenders. It's a trait I've never quite figured out but is clearly something that exists.
"Chad Pennington took the ball and threw it mightily down the field. The wind carried it 30, 40, 50 yards, past the fingertips of Justin McCareins. Jets fans thundered, knowing that their leader, their lightning bolt arm from the Thundering Herd was back ..." One of the great things about writing football copy is hearing John Facenda in your head. Ok, ok, I'm not ready to leave Outsiders and head over to NFL Films quite yet. It was good to see Pennington airing the ball out, even when he overthrew his receiver. Coming back from shoulder surgery, Pennington looks to have regained his strength if not his touch. Much like a baseball pitcher, he'll need some time to regain the proprioception -- the ability to sense his arm's location in space -- and feel how to throw perfectly again. It will come.
Panthers fans have to be encouraged by the sight of Stephen Davis (of Homewood High) in full pads. Even better, he was working with the full teams. He's not 100% yet, but close enough that the Panthers staff thinks he could be ready to go on Opening Day ... err, Kickoff. Whatever. Davis is coming back from the controversial microfracture surgery intended to create some cushion in his knee's joint space. There's very little to go on here. Like many orthopedic innovations, it was originally tested on elderly people with failing joints, not traumatic injuries to over-muscular men. Enjoy it while it lasts -- he's 31 and on the wrong side of knee problems.
The NFL has been at the forefront of research on concussions and head injuries, mostly due to the fact that the game generates more than its fair share of them. Its probably impossible to completely eliminate head injuries in a sport with such violent collisions, but the severity has been reduced by increased awareness, improved equipment, and better assessment by medical personnel. That's all tested when someone like Gary Baxter, the Browns' new cornerback, becomes a human missile and leads with his head when tackling a hurtling back like Kevin Jones. Baxter has already had neck problems, something a source says comes from his head-down tackling. Teams often reward big hitters, so it's not hard to understand why this happens. It is hard changing the culture of the hit that makes us all go "oooh."
The cart -- it's that thing that no player wants to see and wants to ride on even less. The cart seldom comes out for small injuries and players will hobble off the field in obvious pain to avoid the ignomy of the cart, the whispers and the polite applause as it heads to the trainers' area. Justin Jenkins, the Eagles receiver, got the cart on the opening kickoff last weekend after tearing his ACL, watching his season vanish as he drove into the tunnel. Jenkins was a fringe receiver when healthy, so a two-year recovery period could end his career.
Hey look -- Fred Taylor in the injury report! It's actually good news, especially given the performances by the backups the Jaguars trotted out behind Byron Leftwich last week. Taylor will get his first game action on Thursday, though he won't be on the field long. Taylor is simply too valuable and too fragile for this team not to maximize the carries he'll get this season. It's probably the key coaching move this season for the Jags. If Jack Del Rio keeps Taylor's carries to the important ones, the team may exceed expectations. If Taylor's back in the injury report too often, well, they'll be watching Mel Kiper for draft hints.
Michael Bennett is 50/50 at this point with a sore neck for the opener. He'll play ... Peter Warrick, this is your career passing by. It feels like a sore hamstring ... Worried about Jamal Lewis and his ankle? Don't. He's cutting and showing that dangerous acceleration that the Browns know oh-so-well. He could be a nightmare for the Colts defense.
36 comments, Last at 25 Aug 2005, 6:53pm by UTK Fan