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Are new practice rules contributing to rash of serious injuries?

Bill Polian AP

It’s way too early to blame the rash of injuries during 2013 training camp on the new practice rules and limitations implemented in 2011 as part of the new labor deal.  But that hasn’t prevented speculation that rules aimed at protecting players are getting them injured.

Former NFL G.M. Bill Polian shared the concerns about which football people are buzzing.  After pointing out that the league won’t know whether there’s a new trend until looking at the statistics, Polian offered three reasons for a premature correlation during ESPN’s NFL Insiders program.

First, Polian said, “We don’t do one-on-ones anymore in OTAs.  And as a result when you come into camp and put pads on, you’re not used to doing the movements.  And that can hurt to some degree.”

(Actually, one-on-ones were prohibited in offseason workouts under the pre-2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement.  But the rule wasn’t enforced the way it presumably is now.)

Second, Polian mentioned that one of the two daily training-camp practices is merely a walk-through.

“You don’t develop conditioning by walking through,” Polian said.  “You don’t need to go full blast, but jogging would be better.”

Third, Polian explained that, because there are fewer practices with live hitting, there’s greater intensity when it’s time to hit.

Polian said these various factors could be adding to player injuries, making it an “unintended consequence” of the new practice rules.

“Every other sport develops players, we’re not developing players,” Polian said.

Though these concerns may be viable as it relates to the ultimate quality of the game, it’s impossible at this point to take a two-week period featuring a cluster of torn ACLs and blame anything other than luck and happenstance.  But it’s not surprising that football people will blame the increased injuries on the practice changes.

Football people hated the reduction in practice time that the owners gave the players in order to get the players to take less money.  As one football person said at the time, “The players got everything but the right to have someone else play for them.”  As a result, football people will be inclined to blame anything and everything on reduced practice time under the new CBA.

At a minimum, the league needs to study at least five full years under the new rules before even attempting to draw conclusions about increased or decreased injuries.  In 2011, for example, there was no offseason  program due to the lockout, and the new training-camp rules were installed on the fly.  Under the reasoning articulated by Polian, there should have been even more torn ACLs that year.

This year, the Steelers are hitting as hard as anyone, with live, to-the-ground tackling in every padded practice.  And they’ve had no torn ACLs.  (Yet.)

Even if the league decides that changes need to be made, good luck making that happen before 2021.  If the NFL tries to swing the pendulum toward more practice time or intensity, the NFLPA will resist.  And the NFLPA will seek concessions elsewhere, even if it’s ultimately in the players’ best interests to agree.

That’s one of the realities of collective bargaining.  If one side wants something, the other side wants something in return

Besides, has a single player said, “All these injuries are happening because we don’t practice often or hard enough?”  Until they do, it’ll be impossible to get the union to agree to any changes without more cash or other benefits to the players.

While the increased injuries are a good topic for discussion and analysis, it’s no surprise that an old-school football guy like Polian would try to connect the dots between less practice and more injuries.  We think it’s far more complicated than that, both to identify the problem (including whether there even is a problem) and to come up with a solution the players would accept without saying, “Fine, but give us more money.”

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20 Responses to “Are new practice rules contributing to rash of serious injuries?”
  1. thestrategyexpert says: Aug 7, 2013 4:58 PM

    Great article, and yes the new CBA is a lousy deal and in more ways than one.

  2. ottawabrave91 says: Aug 7, 2013 5:00 PM

    since hgh testing is being implemented, could the players who were using it that have stopped taking it become more susceptible to injury?

  3. cliverush says: Aug 7, 2013 5:02 PM

    He is right and many coaches agree with him. The lack of hitting hurts the players preparation and fails to condition them to the reality of the violent hits in the game.

  4. 8to80texansblog says: Aug 7, 2013 5:09 PM

    I really wish PFT would put up a page that tracked all the preseason injuries. It would be great to be able to see all that info in one place… They have done on numerous occasions with things like free agent trakers and all unemployed teams.

  5. Frazier28/7 says: Aug 7, 2013 5:10 PM

    Yup.

  6. mute617 says: Aug 7, 2013 5:14 PM

    It’s not just a two week rash of ACL issues though. ACL injuries in general have been way up the past couple years

  7. mancave001 says: Aug 7, 2013 5:26 PM

    I doubt it’s schedule related. It seems to me it’s got to be either a lack of proper exercises/conditioning that works flexibility and joint health, and/or an equipment problem. It may be related to the cleats or turf, or even padding. One thing is for sure…they’ve got to do something about all these knee injuries. If I was a playing a “skill” position I’d be wearing soft braces on both knees.

    Speaking of ACL injuries, I wonder if its possible to replace them synthetically? It occurred to me that we’re probably only a few years away from athletes preemptively having their ligaments replaced with indestructible versions.

  8. ddaycloudnine says: Aug 7, 2013 5:31 PM

    Most of the serious injuries have been NON contact ACL injuries. It has nothing to do with contact, or lack of practice. It’s happening when players make their cuts, and pivots. I feel like the NFL has done a great job of protecting the players against concussions, but now I think it’s time for them to spend some time and money on researching all these knee injuries.

  9. war27 says: Aug 7, 2013 5:33 PM

    More testing = weaker athletes that are much larger in size = injury

  10. dennisatunity says: Aug 7, 2013 5:49 PM

    I would love to see some data. It feels like there are more injuries than usual, but we can’t really tell without the numbers. Having said that, I think ottawabrave91 makes an interesting point. Is there a correlation between injuries and the frequency of drug testing, especially with people who many football insiders “assume” were using PEDs of some type and have now stopped?

  11. bookofelisha10 says: Aug 7, 2013 5:56 PM

    i wish we could just lock goodell and all these people who agree to rule changes and making the game boring by ‘not spiking the football’ anymore (even though its a tradition) in the same cell with Aaron hernandez for few days.

    STOP CHANGING THE GAMMMMEEEE

  12. prmpft says: Aug 7, 2013 5:57 PM

    A lifetime of football has taught me that backing off and ‘tiptoeing’ cause injury and indecision. In addition, you can only train for full speed at full speed. The rule makers do not take true Strength and Conditioning concepts fully into consideration – which hamstrings (if you will) those who are charged with training those athletes. It will certainly get worse before it gets better (?if it does) and who will get the blame for that? Not the top decision makers I’ll wager.

  13. Norseman says: Aug 7, 2013 7:11 PM

    Going less than full-out is big cause of injury.

    Just like the rule changes during the game, practice rule changes have unintended consequences- all of which increase injuries instead of preventing them as intended.

    For example, rule changes that favor the passing game but meant to protect players (like tougher PI calls, roughing the QB, relaxing intentional grounding, etc., etc.) only increase the amount of passing plays, which are much more likely to cause injuries than running plays.

  14. sikoix says: Aug 7, 2013 7:33 PM

    I keep hearing how this year there have been way more injuries than usual, but I can remember a lot of offseasons that were similarly bad (in terms of what it seemed like). Seeing hard data/numbers would be pretty nice.

  15. melikefootball says: Aug 7, 2013 9:01 PM

    Last year when you review the injuries, many was conditioning injuries. Wasn’t just one team but most all experienced this. The game has changed with the emphasis on safety, what is left is many players sitting on the sidelines. The new motto, teams that stay away from the injuries make the playoffs, not necessary wins.

  16. thereyougo2 says: Aug 7, 2013 10:22 PM

    Agree stop changing the game. Everything in life changes so maybe this commissioner gets changed. He’s killing IT.

  17. dallascowboysdishingthereal says: Aug 7, 2013 11:54 PM

    The NFL players are larger than ever today. Not too many years ago, it was a big deal to see a player weighing 300 lbs. Now that’s nothing.

    The additional weight must add stress to the joints of the body. Many players purposely get larger quickly and perhaps their bodys aren’t designed to be that large.

  18. wecomefromthestars says: Aug 8, 2013 8:59 AM

    Has anybody looked into what sort of water these young men are drinking? There is a TON of study going on about Flouride these days (if it’s good for our teeth, why must we ingest it into out stomachs/bloodstream?).

    One of the possible results of drinking this toxic substance is a hardening of soft tissue such as ligaments and tendons. It seems they are being calcified in some way when the flouride molecule makes its way to these areas. Go forth, and research for yourself.

    If I were a coach I would not let any player of mine drink tap water at any point during his career. I would pay the extra money to have spring water trucked into camp.

  19. bigjdve says: Aug 8, 2013 11:00 AM

    The NFL players seem to be the least conditioned athletes coming back from the off-season. They also have the smallest preseason of any of the 4 big sports.

    Lack of conditioning does play a lot into this, I don’t need Polian to tell me that, I could tell you that just from playing softball. If you didn’t get back in shape before the season you would have a lot more aches and pains. That was for me an amateur athlete, now imagine what professionals who are doing more will be looking at.

    Common sense also dictates that you need your body in really good shape, as well as practiced before you start either hitting or getting hit by freight trains every week.

  20. janvanflac says: Aug 12, 2013 10:26 AM

    Both of the Eagles WRs who had ACLs had prior injuries to the same knee. And they were both non-contact injuries.

    Last year it seems like there was a rash of Achillies injuries this time. Sometimes these things are just random.

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