Tony Romo (Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Every game this preseason seemed to be delayed by 10 injury timeouts. The most overused phrase during the last four weeks became “would have returned had this been a regular season game,” as though that somehow made it okay. At least no one risked further injury for a meaningless game.
Michael Vick, the mercurial Eagles quarterback, suffered one of these injuries. In one play, he showed what makes him one the NFL’s most exciting and most frustrating players. Vick took a snap from center, spun away from three of four defenders, set his feet briefly, and flicked the ball 60 yards downfield. The Patriots’ Jermaine Cunningham then planted his shoulder and face mask into Vick’s midsection and drove him into the ground. By my count, that was three breathtaking plays in a matter of 15 seconds, which really goes to the root of the problem. How can we possibly make the game safer, while maintaining its current level of excitement?
Michael Vick (Photo Credit: Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
The NFL has a choice to make. It can play every game like the Pro Bowl. Everyone would avoid contact, and no one would get hurt. But then no one would watch. Or it can leave the game be and risk losing both fans AND ex-players to the inevitable aftermath of their own careers. How does football reconcile these things, beyond tinkering around the edges with minor rule changes?
Injuries in the NFL are, in and of themselves, a Catch-22. Players CAN learn how to avoid them through experience. However, in acquiring that experience, those same players will get hurt along the way. Good conditioning helps prevent injury and promote recovery. Being in shape lets the body handle both the stresses of impact as well as the aftermath since, if one part of the body is weakened the other (well-conditioned) parts, can compensate for it. The nature of pro football, however, makes injuries particularly hard to anticipate and evaluate because no matter how much non-contact conditioning a player does, it STILL doesn’t prepare him for the collisions that take place on the field.
The list of players injured this offseason and preseason is too long to cover in its entirety. Each team has between five and 10 players listed on its injury report (and many others who are not, either because they were cut or are not likely to see the field). Here are some of the more important ones going into the season:
Brian Urlacher (Photo Credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Lofa Tatupu, LB (Falcons) – Out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle suffered in practice.
Jonathan Stewart, RB (Panthers) – Questionable, pending recovery from an ankle injury suffered against the Jets in preseason.
Brian Urlacher, LB (Bears) – Supposedly probable for the start of the season after offseason arthroscopic surgery on his knee. (However he admitted that he’ll likely not be the same player he once was.)
Rey Maualuga, LB (Bengals) – Injured his knee in the preseason opener and hasn’t played a down since. He’s questionable to return for the regular season opener.
Trent Richardson, RB (Browns) – Team is hopeful he will play in the opener after undergoing a minor arthroscopic procedure on his knee during the offseason.
Jason Witten, TE (Cowboys) – His lacerated spleen, suffered during the preseason, may keep him out for a good chunk of the regular season.
J.J. Watt, DE (Texans) – Suffered a dislocated elbow during the early part of the preseason and hasn’t played a down since. His health remains in question.
Derrick Johnson, LB (Chiefs) – Suffered an ankle injury of undisclosed severity during the preseason. The team has not indicated his status/availability for the regular season.
Patrick Chung, S (Patriots) – Injured his shoulder early on in the preseason. He’ll probably play in the season opener.
Jabari Greer, CB (Saints) – Had surgery recently to repair a sports hernia and is questionable to start the regular season.
Hakeem Nicks, WR (Giants) – Broke his foot during offseason workouts. Listed as questionable for the first game today but is adamant he’ll start.
Michael Vick, QB (Eagles) – Injured his ribs during preseason but is expected to start the regular season.
Ryan Mathews, RB (Chargers) – Suffered a broken clavicle in his left shoulder on his very first carry of the preseason but has worked hard to get back onto the field. His status for week 1 is still in question however.
Marshawn Lynch, RB (Seahawks) – Back spasms make him questionable for Week 1 (as does a looming potential suspension).
Brandon Jacobs, RB (49ers) – Suffered a knee injury in the second preseason game and has struggled to return to form. His status for the regular season is in question.
Brian Orakpo, LB (Redskins) – Injured his left shoulder in the second week of the preseason and is “optimistic” that he’ll make it back for week 1.