Lockout leaves NFL players facing greater risk of injury

Players who worked hardest in offseason will have competitive edge

July 28, 2011|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

NFL players won their bid for enhanced safety measures this summer, but large numbers of them could suffer short- or long-term setbacks in the manic rush to the 2011 season.

The consequence of a four-month lockout and condensed training camp almost certainly will expose players to higher injury rates this season, even with safeguards adopted in the league's new collective bargaining agreement.

Two-a-day practices are out and the number of workouts in pads reduced under new rules. But getting enough repetitions and work over the next month to make up for lost offseason drills may prove problematic.

Ravens team physician Dr. Andrew Tucker called it the most challenging summer of his 20-year career monitoring NFL players.

"Nobody will know what it's going to look like until the bullets start to fly, so to speak," said Tucker, who is director of Union Memorial sports medicine. "We hope the injury rates are down … but certain people may be at increased risk for certain types of injuries."

Those injuries could range from simple muscle soreness to muscle tears, stress fractures and blown knees. Players who did not commit to a high-intensity fitness program during the lockout likely will be more vulnerable to injury in the months ahead.

In the opinions of two staff members of IMG Performance Institute in Bradenton, Fla., the NFL is in for a rocky season from an injury perspective.

"In the best case, my guess is that 25 percent [of the league's players], over the duration of the lockout, have been doing the right things training-wise on a consistent basis," Trevor Moawad, director of performance for IMG, said. "I'm talking about max intensity, and lifting at the local gym is not max intensity. If they were in an environment like IMG or a top training facility, being pushed and challenged, they'll be fine."

Jeff Dillman, head of physical conditioning at IMG, filled in the rest of the equation.

"I think the percentage of athletes being injured in the league will be very high," Dillman said. "A lot of players trained, but they didn't really 'train' like we do here. I think there will be 75 percent more injuries this year than in the past."

Those statements may sound self-serving, but they also may be true.

Depending on resources that were available in the lock-down situation, workout regimens varied greatly. It appears most in the NFL's 2,400-plus player contingent were conservative in their routines.

Moawad said his organization served 250 players, including two player-run minicamps and the league's rookie symposium. IMG, he said, offered reduced rates and anticipated an average of 40 to 50 players per week. It got 20 to 30 instead. And those numbers were good when compared to other facilities, he said.

"From what I could gather, I think the safest thing to say is it [turnout] was lower to much lower than expected," Moawad said.

A new routine

Many players utilized personal trainers. Some went back to their college to train. Some simply trained on their own. A lot of players were influenced by finance; they no longer were covered by team insurance and were told by the union to save money.

Second-year tight end Ed Dickson, heir apparent to Todd Heap's job, checked into the Ravens facility in Owings Mills this week at 257 pounds, a slight increase over last year. He split his offseason between Eugene and Beaverton, Ore., where he spent family time with his young son.

"I used the resources that I have with being a college graduate from the University of Oregon," Dickson said. "They let me go there and use their facilities for free, so I didn't have to pay for anything."

Dickson said he worked on every aspect of his game at Oregon, including catching passes from Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon, another former Duck. But he also acknowledged it wasn't the same as coming to Baltimore for offseason camps.

"Being away from football, you're never in that football shape unless you're doing those offseason workouts," he said. "But I pushed myself as hard as I can in the offseason, running hills and pushing sleds, stuff like that so I can be prepared for what I'm going to see in training camp. But you're never really going to be prepared unless you're in that structured environment."

After two solid days of conducting player physicals, Tucker said the medical staff had arrived at "a comfort level" about the fitness level of the team. "Now we know what we're dealing with," he said.

"Players that really prepared diligently will probably have a competitive edge. That goes for every offseason. There may be more separation [between players] in that regard because of the lack of supervision of teams to players."

The Ravens had at least two player-led camps in the spring, and some players, like linebacker Jameel McClain, attended not only a performance facility but a football-specific camp as well. Running back Ray Rice conducted his own version of two-a-days, and at one point, led a midnight charge up Federal Hill in Baltimore.

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