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October 30, 2013 Wednesday
SPORTS; Pg. 5C
|Precautions not limiting injuries
Jarrett Bell,[email protected],USA TODAY Sports
There are new rules to protect defenseless players. Evolving protocol and heightened awareness for dealing with concussions. More scrutiny for determining when players can return to play. Better training and nutrition. Advanced medicine.
Yet for all of the forces at work, NFL injuries are seemingly increasing at a record pace.
Through eight weeks, 208 players are on injured reserve.
Including the 19 players eligible to return, the rate of players placed on the reserve lists at midseason exceeds the pace of 2010, when an all-time-high 343 players finished the season on IR, according to data obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
In 2012, the first campaign in which teams could bring one player back from injured reserve during the season, 337 ended the season on IR.
For NFL general managers, the statistics underscore their essential challenge. Deal with it.
"There are always a lot of injuries," New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese told USA TODAY Sports. "It may seem like there are more this year because there are more big-name players."
Julio Jones. Vince Wilfork. Reggie Wayne. Dwight Freeney. Sam Bradford. All done for the season.
Another key name was added Tuesday: Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice. Torn anterior cruciate ligament.
There are other alarming markers. The San Francisco 49ers went to Super Bowl XLVII last season with five players on IR. They have seven on IR this season, not including two wideouts on the physically-unable-to-perform list -- Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham.
The Arizona Cardinals (eight), New York Jets (nine) and Houston Texans (nine) have matched their 2012 IR totals.
The league relies on more comprehensive injury data that will be studied during the offseason, and the six general managers who spoke to USA TODAY Sports contend that the IR lists are also influenced by salary-cap and roster maneuvers.
Still, the injury bug seems so prevalent that even a player who went to the Baltimore Ravens headquarters last week hoping to be signed was lost for the season. Running back Beanie Wells suffered a torn Achilles during a workout for the team.
"That was a freak accident," Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome said. "I've been doing this for 18 years. I've never seen anything like that happen."
Why the uptick in injuries?
Theories include the lightweight shoes some players wear as contributing to an increasing number of foot and ankle injuries.
Some GMs wonder whether the decreased contact during training camp and regular-season practices -- instituted in the collective bargaining agreement to reduce injuries -- has produced players more prone to injuries.
"Everybody wants to complain about the lack of physical contact," Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie said. "But whatever the system, you're still able to practice the fundamentals, like how to tackle."
The Raiders are in the lower quartile with four players on IR, but a chain reaction of issues began in camp when left offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, designated for return, suffered a torn triceps.
"You really struggle when you get bombarded at one position," McKenzie said.
The Raiders hoped rookie Menelik Watson would fill in for Veldheer, but the second-round pick went down late in the summer with a knee injury. They moved Khalif Barnes from right tackle and signed their Week 1 starting right tackle, Tony Pashos, after final preseason cuts. Then Pashos was lost for a couple of weeks.
Every GM can relate. You'd get no argument for expanding the 53-man roster.
"You always want more," Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland said.
While owners increased offseason rosters from 80 to 90 in the last bargaining agreement, they have long resisted expanding regular-season rosters.
Push back the trade deadline? Last year, the league moved the trade deadline from the Tuesday after the sixth week to the eighth week. While it didn't generate a big increase in trades, it allows more time for teams to seek options in dealing with injuries -- as the New England Patriots, stung by Wilfork's loss, demonstrated Tuesday by acquiring nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga from the Philadelphia Eagles.
The best way to prevent injuries?
Maybe it's to knock on wood.
October 30, 2013