The New England Patriots are breathing a collective sight of relief two days after a close call in practice — Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Adrian Clayborn bull-rushed Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder into the knee of Tom Brady — resulted in nothing more than a sprained knee for three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
The same could be said for the Kansas City Chiefs. Running back Jamal Charles turned his ankle in practice on Monday. These were close calls, but they did enough to push the Twitterverse into a full-fledged frenzy.
The NFL has already seen a number of marquee players succumbing to season-ending injuries, and that was before the preseason was even underway, although to the contrary, there have been no reports suggesting that the league has seen an increase in injuries during training camp or in the preseason.
And while football is certainly a physical sport and not all injuries can be prevented, there are measures that can be taken to eliminate risks in practice, aside from the limits posed by the CBA on padded practices.
Earlier this month, Bucs head coach Greg Schiano discussed some of measures he takes with his players, and those are worth revisiting.
Keep players off the ground
The first rule — keeping players off the ground, something that is a great source of frustration for Schiano. “That’s when you see me get the most angry. “It’s what we call a ‘thud.’ When guys go to the ground — when everyone else is trying to stay up and one guy goes to the ground — it’s kind of like a bowling ball with bowling pins.
“It’s not you that gets hurt — the guy that goes down — it’s the guy that you roll into and that’s what we have to avoid at all costs.”
Schiano didn’t provide specific examples of this domino effect when he made that statement, but Wednesday’s situation is a classic example.
A look back at the tape from last year during the Bucs’ preseason game against the Patriots, when defensive end Chandler Jones came off the edge and attempted to spin past left tackle Donald Penn, is another.
Penn inadvertently blocked Jones onto Joseph’s leg. Joseph suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in his knee, forcing him to miss the entire 2012 season.
Mix in half-speed ‘teach-periods’ so players can recover
A second measure, and a number of teams do it around the league, is what Schiano calls ‘teach periods’ — plays run half-speed, without contact — sprinkled in between live 11-in-11s, rather than having players go full-out continuously or stop and take breaks.
This method keeps the players constantly moving, so they can get the necessary mental reps and build a level of ‘football fitness,’ while ensuring their safety by preserving their bodies.
If a receiver runs the wrong route because he was unclear on a new play or was mentally fatigued, and collides awkwardly with a defensive back, that alone could mean a torn ACL. Doing so at half-speed might have prevented it from happening.
Take preventative measures by giving players a day off
This may seem rather obvious, but a number of players around the league don’t get these days off. Players coming off of injury, as well as veterans, may need longer to recuperate, especially if their bodies haven’t been subjected to playing in several months.
Allowing a player to perform drills and finishing practice on the bike, or giving them the day to condition inside can help prevent setbacks before they actually happen.
This has been done with Carl Nicks, who is now dealing with a long-term issue with the plantar plate of his foot. He’ll likely be having days like this in the upcoming season to preserve his body for Sundays.
The same has also been done for Darrelle Revis to help him avoid any setbacks as he continues to work towards his Week 1 target.
And Davin Joseph? He didn’t even make the trip to New England, instead staying behind in Tampa to condition as he continues to work towards his own target, presumably also Week 1. Having him play against the Patriots tonight seems like an unnecessary risk.
Make sure players understand expectations
This might seem like a no-brainer, but players need to understand what is and isn’t tolerated in practice.
“Coach Belichick and I, we stress to our teams ‘let them throw the football. Rush the passer, but go by him. Don’t get around him,'” said Schiano after Brady’s injury. It appeared Clayborn got caught in the heat of the moment and instinct kicked in.
Things had already gotten heated prior to the bull-rush incident when Bucs cornerback Michael Adams got into a scuffle with former Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib, who is now with the Patriots. Both players were excused from practice and were told such behavior would not be tolerated.
Not all injuries can be avoided
There is only so much you can do when athletes are put into a competitive environment, especially when it’s lining up against another team in a scrimmage and jobs are on the line.
And if Wednesday’s incident in Foxborough demonstrates anything, it’s that not all injuries can be avoided, no matter how many times you set the right parameters for practice and take all precautionary measures.
A player could tear his ACL walking from one practice field to the next, or in the case of Connor Barth, suffer a torn Achilles in a charity basketball game.
Injuries happen. But the fatigue-related, overuse, domino-falling, undisciplined ones — those you can at least watch out for.