NFL again hit hard by rash of injuries

Some trace problems to offseason, preseason

October 14, 2007|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun reporter

When he was general manager of the Green Bay Packers, Ron Wolf used to cringe when he saw the team doctor at his office door. More often than not, bad news was about to be delivered.

"He might as well have been the Grim Reaper," Wolf says. "We invented the New England Journal of Sports Medicine in Green Bay."

Injuries have always been a big part of football. In today's NFL, rife with roster-wrecking collisions, they have become even more important to a team's success or failure. After action today, 12 teams will have started at least two quarterbacks in the first six weeks of the season.

Ten changes were the result of injury. Last week alone, four quarterbacks were knocked out of their games.

It is a problem that resonates throughout the league this season, and is not limited to quarterbacks. To wit:

After losing two offensive linemen on one series, the Ravens were forced to play with three rookie linemen last week.

The St. Louis Rams have placed four offensive linemen on injured reserve, meaning they are out for the rest of the season.

The Buffalo Bills have four starters and a total of nine players out for the season, including Kevin Everett, who suffered a seemingly catastrophic spinal cord injury in Week 1.

The Chicago Bears played a Week 4 game in Detroit with a new secondary because of injuries.

The Atlanta Falcons will start two undrafted offensive tackles tomorrow night against the New York Giants because their two veteran starters are out, one for the season.

Faced with the loss of injured No. 2 quarterback David Carr, after having lost starter Jake Delhomme for the season, the Carolina Panthers last week signed former Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde, 43, who might start today in Arizona.

There are various theories on the spike of injuries that hits the NFL every season. Wolf, now retired and living in Annapolis, thinks players are more vulnerable in September because they haven't played enough in the preseason to adequately prepare for the physical pounding required in the regular season.

"Guys don't play in the preseason," Wolf said. "Suddenly, you're going to turn a switch on and play at the speed necessary to compete in the NFL, and what happens? They get hurt. That's why you see all those injuries in the first quarter of the season."

Wolf acknowledged his theory was "just a belief" and not based on any figures he compiled during his nine years in Green Bay.

The Rams held out running back Steven Jackson from virtually all preseason games and he suffered a partially torn groin in Week 3. Today's game in Baltimore will be the third Jackson has missed this season.

In the wake of the Rams' 0-5 start, coach Scott Linehan has been criticized for not playing his regulars more in the preseason.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league monitors injuries to discern trends but does not have any figures that support Wolf's theory.

Dr. Andrew Tucker, team physician for the Ravens and a member of the NFL's injury and safety panel, went one step further. He said the numbers show there is no correlation between total injuries or more severe injuries and any particular point in the regular season.

"The distribution of injuries and types of injuries has been pretty consistent throughout the NFL season over the years," Tucker said.

"In my opinion, there's a more consistent ebb and flow with how injuries occur. You see a cluster of them, some maybe more severe, over a several-week period of time. But things tend to even out over time," he said.

Still, there is no shortage of theories on the annual rash of injuries. Dr. Elton Strauss, chief of orthopedic trauma at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, believes there are a number of contributing factors.

"No. 1, I think there's no offseason and I think injuries never have a chance to heal," he said. "When one joint is injured, others tend to be injured as well."

Strauss also believes the NFL teams rely too much on weightlifting in the offseason and not enough on flexibility training.

"My big thing is, I think the body never recovers from some of these big blows," he said. "I think there's a trade-off - better food, vitamins, better [knee] braces and equipment - but the bottom line is the human body can only take so much. Then it will break."

There are always exceptions, of course. Wolf remembers when he acquired quarterback Brett Favre from the Falcons in 1992. Favre failed the Packers' physical because of a hip injury he sustained in a car accident in college.

"The [team doctor] said, `Send him back to Atlanta; he's good for only three or four years,' " Wolf said.

Fifteen years and 242 consecutive starts later, Favre is still playing for the Packers.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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