Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

HarvinPer09.jpg

» Impact of the NFL's Kickoff Rule Change

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

Black and Blue Report: Not Again

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.

Bumps and Bruises

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.

Posted by: Will Carroll on 24 Aug 2005

36 comments, Last at 25 Aug 2005, 6:53pm by UTK Fan

Comments

1
by ElJefe (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 9:54am

And just off the wires ... Correll Buckhalter undergoes season(career?)-ending surgery to repair a torn right patellar tendon.

I'd guess the Eagles will respond by exhuming Dorsey Levens, again.

2
by Dan Babbitt (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 10:11am

The importance of the injury to Center Matt Birk cannot be overstated. Fantasy players, take this into consideration when looking at Minny RBs. Bennett's got a neck injury too.

3
by Ray (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 10:28am

Poor Buckhalter. Just can't stay healthy.

4
by Carl (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 11:53am

"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."

The NFL was threatened with a lawsuit by Leigh Steinberg, on behalf of several injured clients (including Troy Aikman), and the manufacturers of helmets were increasingly the target of litigation for traumatic head injuries.

In 1994, the NFL created a committee headed by Dr. Elliot J. Pellman, team doctor for the NY Jets (but not a neurologist). Their mandate was to investigate the growing number, and severity, of concussions in the NFL.

From 1996 to 2001, Pellman's team scrutinized game film of 182 known concussions. They analyzed 174 of them, then used 3-D imagery and dummy impact tests to recreate the biomechanical effects of trauma to the head.

Both the methodology AND the conclusions of Pellman's committee have been highly controversial. Prominent neurosurgeons, including Dr. Julian Bailes of WVU (one of the world's foremost concussion experts) scoffs at it, and he's hardly alone.

There's a fairly large literature in the peer-reviewed journals going back and forth about the issue.

The belief among many neurosurgeons, including many currently working for NFL teams, is that the NFL research was designed to create a sense of doubt in the event of a class action suit from a large number of retired players.

"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."

Neurosurgeons still can't be sure how many concussions occur in the league every year, much less the severity of the grading. A 2002 study by the NCAA found that up to 72 percent of all concussions go unreported, much less treated.

Just remember that Notre Dame and Virginia Tech have more sophisticated concussion identification and treatment programs than nearly a third of the NFL teams, so it's not as if colleges aren't doing anything about this.

NFL injury reports document about 50 annually. Pellman estimates the total is closer to 200.

A large study of CFL athletes, many of whom eventually play in the NFL (and the other way) found far larger numbers of concussions -- nearly half the league every year -- and far greater severity of injuries.

Monitoring of head injuries by the teams also found widely varying numbers and grades of concussions, with many pointing to the conclusions of the CFL investigation, not the NFL's.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, which lead the league in advanced neurological care for their athletes, estimate 30-35 concussions, which would bring the total closer to the CFL conclusions than those published by the NFL. The St. Louis Rams report similar numbers and have paid large sums for their own research into playing and practice field conditions as possible causes of particularly severe head trauma.

A longterm study conducted by the Center for the Study of Retired Athlete in North Carolina is now entering its clinical phase. The results of this research likely will shed far more light on the problem.

Much of its funding comes from the NFLPA. The players ceded a portion of their salary for more research into the health effects of the game they play.

5
by bob (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 1:16pm

There have been multiple instances of Carl completely refuting Will's comments on the excellence of the NFL in injury awareness/prevention. As much as I respect the work that Will does, I tend to believe Carl on this point. At some point, if Will is to be taken seriously as an injury "expert", he has to stop writing things that are apparently demonstrably false.

6
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 1:26pm

There's a huge difference between doing nothing and not doing enough. I think Carl's main point is that it's silly to believe that the NFL is doing enough just because it's doing something.

7
by CoreyG (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 1:37pm

Click my name to see a link for more information on the Virginia Tech study Carl mentioned. Pellman is quoted in the article, and to me he seems pretty defensive about his study conducted for the NFL.

8
by Carl (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 1:53pm

Bob,

In no way do I refute anything Will has written. I think it's the best work about injuries in the NFL anyone is doing.

I'm a supporter, not a detractor. I only added my post to supplement what he wrote, not challenge it.

He can't write everything in the format he has. There isn't enough space. And it's a particularly complex issue.

Personally, I don't know if Pellman, Bailes or any of the many scientific arguments circulating now are right, or wrong, or mostly right or wrong.

I just wanted to add something to the discussion.

The only thing I know is that Will is doing a real service for football fans. His stuff in FO's book was the best primer I've ever read on injuries in the NFL, and I recommended several copies for newsrooms in other markets.

9
by Adam (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 3:14pm

Philadelphia Daily News today reported that the Eagles have begun talking to Levens (who claims to be ready and interested), but have no interest in Troy Hambrick.

10
by Derek (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 3:35pm

Levens was servicable last year in a part-time role and likely will be again.

Although Peter King gets mocked a fair bit around here, I thought his point about Najeh Davenport being available this past offseason for a 4th round pick was a good one (even if he kept repeating it). I don't know much about Najeh's pass catching skills but I thought he would have been a good fit for the Eagles as an alternative to Westbrook. Davenport is certainly familiar with the West Coast Offense.

I feel bad for Buckhalter who showed some flashes but clearly his knees weren't meant for this violent profession.

11
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 4:12pm

Well, he did just sign a new contract with the Eagles. It's only got a $200K signing bonus, but at least it's something for his troubles.

I hate to say it, but I hope the Eagles release him, or he retires. For both the team's good and his own good.

And I do wish they had picked up Davenport or Travis Henry. I have no idea why Philly thinks that two small backs will do fine.

12
by Ron Mexico (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 4:18pm

"And I do wish they had picked up Davenport or Travis Henry."

No. No. Make it stop. Make it stop.

"(B)ut have no interest in Troy Hambrick."

Peter King: Hambrick is worth at least a second round draft pick! Why isn't anyone jumping at him??????

13
by ElJefe (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 4:29pm

I suspect Andy Reid felt like two small backs would be fine because he really doesn't want to run the football any more than is necessary to keep the opposition out of nickel or dime on first down.

As such, Levens will fill a role just fine. The 3rd RB might top out at 80 touches this year since Ryan Moats will probably get most of the 4th quarter "sit-on-the-clock" carries. Levens will be grateful for a job and understand his primary role is to pass-block. I too would have liked to see them pick up Davenport, but Najeh wasn't going to sign with a team that would only give him 10 carries/game. He can get that on a 1-year tender with GB and be free to sign elsewhere next year.

14
by Carl (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 4:29pm

Hello, Reno Mahe!

Catches punts by day, becomes third down back by night. And he's about 20 lbs lighter than Buckhalter!

Is Tyrone Wheatley with someone now? I don't know what Oakland has on him.

He has a high success rate and is a big, beefy back. But he's been slowed by injuries, been linked to steroids charges and, unfortunately, came from the Big 10, so he's probably worthless.

At least Ryan Moats will get some playing time. I'd like to see just how good he is. I've heard scouts say he's excellent, but it's hard to tell when you play for Louisiana Tech.

15
by ElJefe (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 4:31pm

Oh, the Eagles can't release Buckhalter this season because he's injured. So he'll get to keep his signing bonus and salary this year before being released in '06. That also means he has no incentive to retire.

16
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 4:34pm

ElJefe:

I meant next year, not this year. Obviously they can't release him this year. And I figured Buckhalter might just retire (after this year) because he would like to walk when he's 40.

I hate saying it, but there's no way the Eagles should pay $1M next year for a guy who probably only has a 25% chance of playing.

17
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 4:36pm

and, unfortunately, came from the Big 10, so he’s probably worthless.

I swear I hope that Larry Johnson has a monster year with KC just so that this stupid idea can slowly die.

Grr.

18
by Derek (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 4:50pm

Pat,
I can't imagine the Eagles will bring Buckhalter back again next year and I also hope he protects his own future mobility by retiring.

Call me crazy but I once had hope for Thomas Tapeh as a power back until he suffered that injury near the end of preseason last year. Must be the Big Ten curse!

19
by Carl (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 5:00pm

By the way, am I the only one in here who really likes Jesse Chatman? I think he's a RFA for SD. I haven't followed his contract, but he has the makings of a very good back.

He would have been perfect in Philly.

20
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 5:02pm

Tapeh got injured during the regular season (Rams game), not during the preseason. Or did he get injured in preseason as well?

Grr. Shuddup about the Big Ten curse. Grr.

21
by Derek (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 5:21pm

Brain cramp. I meant regular season but my mind is on preseason injuries.

22
by Adam H. (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 5:31pm

Re 19 No Carl I was hoping the birds would put together a package for the "Little Ball of Hate" this offseason. Maybe they could still trade for him.

23
by Carl (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 5:54pm

I just looked up his status. He had tryouts last week with Seattle. Philadelphia should act quickly!

Talk about a team that needs a "little ball of hate."

What are the metrics on "hate," anyway?

Don't worry, Pat. He comes from Eastern Washington University. No Eagles in the Big 10.

24
by Ron Mexico (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 7:10pm

"Hey look – Fred Taylor in the injury report!"

They probably keep that headline handy every year in Jacksonville. They'll use it.

25
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 10:11pm

I'll second the importance of Birk's injury, which I read was a torn labrum of the hip, that, if Birk decides to have surgery on, will likely put him out for the year. Losing Birk will really narrow the things the Vikings can do in their running attack, given a healthy Birk's pulling ability, and the fact that he is about 35 pounds heavier than his back-up Cory Withrow.

What I didn't get was that Birk seems determined to decide this issue in the next day or two, as opposed to allowing a couple more weeks to see if the pain becomes more manageable. Perhaps his doctors have told him that the pain isn't going to get any better until the surgery is done. Boy, has this guy ever learned about the muscles in the pelvic girdle ove the past 12 months; three or four hernia operations, a labrum surgery, and now possibly another. Maybe his body is just breaking down after seven or eight years in the league.

On the sad news out of San Francisco, has anyone done any research as to the frequency of large football players suddenly having their hearts stop, as opposed to much skinnier and lighter basketball players? Purely on my memory alone, it seems the smaller basketball guys suffer this hideous fate as frequently as the big lineman.

26
by Theo (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 11:13pm

proprioception

tell me more... I like that.
I've seen a lot of players (especially in soccer) do things in (seemingly) a lot of less time than others would. It seems like everything slows down.
I have that too while playing football. You blink your eyes slower and everything slows down.
Best feeling ever, except for good sex.
Can you explain it?

27
by TMK (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 11:54pm

Will,

Most of the basketball players -- as well as volleyball ace Flo Hyman -- that have died in such circumstances seem to have suffered from some degree with what is known as Marfan's syndrome, which is related to the abnormal elongation of limbs and frames. Abraham Lincoln apparently also had this condition.

Most of the football players that experience such sudden death, though, do not appear to be victims of that particular disease. While not knowing what caused Thomas Herrion's demise, he did not seem to be unusually long-limbed, but it certainly bears investigation.

28
by jimmo (not verified) :: Thu, 08/25/2005 - 12:20am

Chatman failed a San Diego physical, prompting his release a few weeks ago. Perhaps he's still available after so many workouts with teams because he's simply not physically able to play right now.
Seattle didn't sign him after an August 10 visit despite the lingering hamstring problem of Mo Morris and the lack of depth behind Alexander, and Minnesota seems to have passed on him, despite Bennett's most recent injury and Tice's seeming lack of confidence in Mewelde Moore .

At this point, I'd doubt he's Philly's answer either.

29
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 08/25/2005 - 12:34am

Can you explain it?

That's not proprioception. That's good, old fashioned, adrenaline.

Proprioception is what allows you to walk without watching your feet. A better example for Internet addicts is that proprioception is what allows you to touch type. It's not special to athletes.

Another way of saying "he needs to get his proprioception back" is just saying "his body doesn't work the way his brain expects it to anymore."

30
by kyle (not verified) :: Thu, 08/25/2005 - 3:21am

i'd also like to see what ryan moats can do. he got a ton of carries and worked for every extra yard in college, so i wonder how worn-down he is, but even considering the significant leap in the level of opposition i think he's got the skills to be starting rb.

i too feel bad for buckhalter, especially being a nebraska fan. the 'skers counterpart his senior season, dan alexander, is doing quite well up in canada. i never figured that the one to get a job in the NFL would be the less fortunante.

31
by Joe D. (not verified) :: Thu, 08/25/2005 - 8:43am

"Most of the basketball players – as well as volleyball ace Flo Hyman – that have died in such circumstances seem to have suffered from some degree with what is known as Marfan’s syndrome, which is related to the abnormal elongation of limbs and frames."

I would imagine that this syndrome is much more prevalent among basketball and volleyball players that don't die too, though I could be wrong. I don't see having longer limbs and frames being nearly the asset in football as in basketball.

Did that make any sense?

32
by David (not verified) :: Thu, 08/25/2005 - 10:55am

re: 27
Speaking as someone who has been disabled, I wanted to bring up something that is not a big thing but it is something you notice when you have such a history. I wanted to point out that the term "victim" may not be appropriate here, as the term suggests a loss of agency and a state of powerlessness. I doubt that one would describe Abe Lincoln or (possibly) Kevin McHale as being victimized, for example. It's not a case of being "more sensitive" but rather one of accuracy. Again, not a big deal, but I thought I'd point it out.

33
by TMK (not verified) :: Thu, 08/25/2005 - 11:15am

David,

I think I see where I may have misled you in my post. I meant "victim" to refer to someone who actually died as a result of the disease, such as "football players who died were not a victim of the disease." I could have written that statement better. I agree that having a disease or condition does not make you a victim; dying because of it does.

I ws unaware that Kevin McHale had Marfan's; whether it would have killed Lincoln, of course, we will never know.

34
by Aaron (not verified) :: Thu, 08/25/2005 - 12:44pm

Hey ... as far as I know, Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis, the most famous on-court basketball fatalities, did not have Marfan's Syndrome. Marfan's is more an issue with taller players -- I believe the symptoms include elongated bones, including the face. Andre the Giant died from Marfan's, and I believe Gheorghe Muresan has it, though he is still alive (to my knowledge).

35
by David (not verified) :: Thu, 08/25/2005 - 2:26pm

Ah, I see what you mean. I could have been a bit better as a reader there too. And, as far as McHale goes, no certain knowledge on the condition, just a Celtics fan shout to a great, great post player known for his uber-long arms. I believe that Auerbach likened him to a gorilla at one point early in his career.

36
by UTK Fan (not verified) :: Thu, 08/25/2005 - 6:53pm

Referring to the start of your column, I wanted to read what you wrote then about
the passing of #57 (Kile). The UTK archives at BP only go to 2003.
Were you working for BP in June 2002?

I did find
http://www.netshrine.com/vbulletin2/showthread.php?t=4651

but couldn't locate anything at http://web.archive.org
for http://www.willcarroll.com regarding that day.