How did New England find the right combination of offensive linemen this season, and where are Seattle's biggest weaknesses in pass protection?
12 Jul 2005
by Will Carroll
Sure, I've been around these parts before, but get used to seeing me. There's no guy more befitting the title of "Football Outsider" than me, the unrepentant baseball guy. That doesn't mean that I eschew football. Like most of America, you'll find me as glued to the big screen on Sunday. Injuries are perhaps even more of a part of the game in football than baseball. The hits are massive, the injuries more violent and often grotesque, yet there's little in the way of actual analysis of how these injuries are affecting a team over the longer term. I won't focus on who's in and who's out -- there are more and better sources for that type of thing. I'll give you the how's and why's of injury, hoping to give some insight and for fantasy players, maybe a bit of advantage. The concept of risk management is still new to football, though there are teams making leaps in this area.
As Vince Lombardi said, "football is a collision sport." People, let's get ready to collide.
Each week, I'll take a look at the ten most significant injuries in the NFL, a combination of long-term major injuries and the biggest injuries from the previous weekend's games. Some will be injuries that affect a team, a particular player's career arc, or maybe they just caught my eye. I'll admit a weakness for the weird, unusual, and bloody. That alone should make me fit in with football fanatics like we have here.
So, powered by the sobering knowledge that I'm not the biggest coffee nerd in football, on to the injuries:
There is nothing in football more sacred than The Line. The idea that Jacksonville hid information that may have affected the line will likely cause Paul Tagliabue some headaches and cost Wayne Weaver some cash. Teams regularly obfuscate their injury list in hopes of finding some competitive advantage that usually is illusory at best. Fred Taylor's dual ligament tear made him look bad, as if he was jaking it in his rehab from the reported and much less serious meniscal tear. Taylor should come back from this more quickly than the players attempting to come back from ACL surgery. If Taylor was accurate in his breakdown of his knee surgery, he'll have a much harder time maintaining leg drive, cutting his ability to get the "hard yard" at the goal line. He'll also see weakness in hard lateral cuts, never a major portion of his game. What has been a major portion is his time on the sidelines, something this injury and its fix is unlikely to change. Taylor should be ready for the start of training camp just a few weeks away. There's little chance he'll make it through the season intact.
The Jets' future was put in the hands of Dr. James Andrews in January. Chad Pennington found himself with a significant tear of the rotator cuff, the four muscles that decelerate and stabilize the shoulder. Andrews, best known for his work in baseball, was selected due to his extensive knowledge of throwing injuries and the research lab that he oversees. While baseball has long used scientific method to work on throwing, football is, for once, well behind baseball. (It's interesting to note that Drew Brees had his best season after working with Tom House, the pitching guru.) Pennington figures to have all of his strength back by the time training camp rolls around so the real question is will he have "touch." There's something called proprioception -- the ability of the body to sense where it is in space -- that many feel is the difference between an elite athlete and people like you and me. Injuries that challenge that proprioception, such as those involving joints and their action, tend to take a while to come back from due to the rebuilding of that innate sense.
Ty Law will be the starting CB somewhere in 2005. The question is where and when. After Carl Poston, Law's agent, recently declared that Law was "85% healed", teams immediately started asking what that meant. Law is recovering from surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot, followed by a second procedure to clean up some ligament damage that occurred when Law tried to come back for the Pats' playoff run. A player reliant on his quickness -- and now 31 years old -- Law is hardly the best candidate to come back to 100%. The comment from Poston likely means nothing medically -- it's a comment more designed for salesmanship than medical reliability. Law's bone was screwed and plated and at nearly a year post, there's no real possibility that the injury is not at maximum medical improvement (MMI). The ligament is likely healed up as much as it's going to be as well, meaning that Law still hopes to get some improvement due to reduced pain or increased comfort. 85% of Ty Law is still productive, assuming it fits into a team's cap structure. If I'm thinking of signing him -- and it seems several teams are -- I want to see him run, then I want to see his foot the next day.
Like Law, Peter Boulware is facing an uncomfortable summer of convincing teams that he's healthy enough to return to his formerly fearsome four-down form. (Say that four times fast.) Boulware is a perfect fit for the suddenly trendy 3-4 defense with his edge rushing skills. Unfortunately, the two injuries he suffered last season -- turf toe and articular knee problems -- directly impact that skill. Turf toe, that insidious injury, really derailed the rehab for Boulware's knee, leaving him completely untested. Boulware remains risky and will until he hits the field, one of those interesting enigmas of what I call a "binary injury" -- he's either fine or not, but we won't know until he's on the field ruining some QB's day. Whether a team will spend a couple million to find out is a tough sign.
Daniel Snyder apparently can't spend enough money to keep a solid secondary in place. Fred Smoot is gone, Sean Taylor has had more legal problems than Martha Stewart, and now Carlos Rogers is walking around in a boot. A stress fracture to his right foot was only found after he sprained his right ankle in "summer school." (Is that not the dumbest name for minicamp ever?) The term "stress fracture" is misunderstood. Basically, this type of injury is a weakness in the bone that has not resulted in a complete fracture. Usually it occurs over time, though there are many complicating factors in addition to repetitive trauma. Rogers not only has the foot stress reaction, but a severe bone bruise -- about one step down the scale from a stress fracture -- in his right ankle. Rogers injury has an unknown genesis -- was it during workouts at Auburn or a trauma suffered at minicamp? This is certainly not an ideal start to his career and while the Skins didn't expect Rogers to step right into the starting secondary, they might not get anything at all this season from their first rounder.
Another wad of Snyder's limitless cash bin is sitting on the bench with linebacker LaVar Arrington, and he is in no rush to get back. He's been cleared to return to activity after two sets of surgery on his right knee, including some significant complications in between. The surgery was performed by James Andrews, who was clear that while he expected a full return, Arrington's situation was certainly hurt by forcing him back into the lineup at the end of 2004. The Skins aren't expecting Arrington to be ready for training camp, yet again putting his role in their blitzing defense in question.
Players in SF play in the shadow of Ronnie Lott's finger. It's a long time since THE MOST INSANE UTTERANCE IN FOOTBALL HISTORY, a rich field if ever there was one. Jeremy Newberry will keep the tradition going this year, playing on damaged knees while trying to protect Alex Smith at the same time. Instead of having surgery now to correct the damage that remains from his displaced kneecap (not dislocated, displaced!), he had a scope and will have microfracture surgery after the season. This new surgery is used to defray the damage done by the bone on bone contact happening in all too many knees around sports. It sounds as bad as it is. Newberry's season relies on painkillers and balls.
Julian Peterson is not a good football name. It's a Bret Easton Ellis protagonist or the fey one on the latest incarnation of The Real World: Bowling Green. A good football name is Jack Ham, Billy Sims, or anything using Jim or Bob (or both!) as a middle name. Bad name or not, Peterson is a solid linebacker who figures to help the Niners back to respectability once his surgically repaired Achilles tendon allows him back on the field. Peterson has been running sprints at full speed despite reports that he is not yet fully healed. How can this be? The question is whether Peterson's Achilles can handle the stops and explosive starts required of an NFL linebacker. The surgery is pretty straightforward and has great results. Peterson will likely have more trouble adjusting to the new 3-4 scheme than he will with his ankle.
It wasn't too long ago that 6'3", 220 described an offensive guard. Now, it's an injury-prone tailback. Chris Brown has missed time over the last two seasons with hamstring strains, ankle problems, chronic shoulder stingers, and surgery on both ankles. His latest malady is pretty mild in comparison, a broken right hand suffered in mini-camp. Don't expect this to slow him down as much as the rest of it. The biggest injury seems to be the strained confidence suffered by Jeff Fisher, who's demanding durability from a player that has never exhibited that skill.
The Titans are also hoping that TE Ben Troupe will become a bigger threat this season. Off-season surgery on his fifth metatarsal -- the bone on the outside of the foot, extending to the piggie that went wee-wee-wee all the way home -- will likely cause some problems with his training camp, though not in the regular season. The 10-14 week timeframe puts him up against this season's kickoff, though team sources think he'll participate in "most" of camp. Again, this is a common injury that is becoming less common as turf is going extinct in the NFL, except in larger receivers that are overstressing their feet and ankles on cuts. Bigger is not always better.
By the way, when this column returns after the first weekend of pre-season games, it really needs a name. Offer the best one by emailing will-at-footballoutsiders.com and I'll buy you a copy of Pro Football Prospectus.
56 comments, Last at 29 Apr 2006, 8:34pm by Nathan B. Dawe