How Teams Struggling with Injury Should Handle Spring Football
When Florida took the field for their final practice game of the spring, the things did not quite go the way they usually would at this event.
Head coach Will Muschamp decided to cancel the game and hold a regular practice due to injuries, specifically those suffered by his offensive line.
It was a good move for a program loaded with injuries.
But what about trying to avoid injuries?
Should a head coach reduce the amount or intensity of practice to protect players from injury?
Read on for the answers.
6. Injuries Happen
Injuries are a part of spring practice.
Besides the injuries to Florida's offensive linemen, there is a list of impact players who suffered serious injury this spring.
USC's stud freshman safety Su'a Cravens suffered a torn meniscus. Receiver George Farmer tore his ACL, and Silas Redd suffered a similar injury to Cravens', just to name a few.
At Wisconsin, defensive end/linebacker David Gilbert suffered a foot injury, and decided to forgo this season, his final with the program.
At Notre Dame, running back Amir Carlisle broke his collarbone, while defensive end Chase Hounshell injured his shoulder early in spring practice.
Michigan stud linebacker Jake Ryan suffered a torn ACL, while at Nebraska, starting running back Amir Abdullah tweaked his knee early in March and missed the rest of spring practice.
That's a brief summary of some of the injuries at major programs that could impact teams going forward; it is by no way comprehensive, and would take up tons of space if it were.
Injuries are a part of the game, and can't be avoided, so that needs to be understood.
5. Reasons for Spring Practice
What is spring practice all about?
Getting a look at the talent early in the spring, making sure everybody is learning the system, starting to figure out which early-enrollees will contribute immediately—there are several reasons.
But is there really a need to drive players towards the level of intense play that they will face in the fall?
For at least a month in the fall, there is plenty of practice time for teams to begin pulling together and playing with the speed, passion and intensity that will be needed for a successful season.
Practicing hard is good and should take place at every practice, but the level of physicality does not have to be at game levels in March and April.
If the spring practices are about knocking off some rust and starting to watch the team gel, regular drills and protected game situations are good enough.
There is no need to risk injury in the spring with overly physical practices, but the amount of practice should not be changed to protect players.
4. Spring Practice Is Needed, Don't Try to Reduce It
For all the arguments against aggressive spring practices, there are plenty of positive aspects of the tradition.
Realistically, spring practice is needed to start getting a two-deep set, to begin fine-tuning the offensive and defensive units (especially if there is a new system in place), and to make sure players have been sticking to their conditioning regimen and are prepared for the rigors of a football season.
Spring is needed to knock off the rust, and begin developing the game plan that will lead to success during the grueling season ahead.
With practices limited by the NCAA, every minute is essential, and every minute contributes to the success of a winning program.
If a coach is going to spend too much time worrying about players who have not yet been injured, he would be better of just cancelling practice.
If it's going to happen, it's going to happen, and reducing practice times is not going to help.
3. More Aggressive Practices Lead to More Injuries
Lane Kiffin promised more physical practices during USC's spring, but has been feeling the repercussions almost as soon as practice started.
The Trojans have been hit with a slew of injuries this spring, injuries to key starting players including running back Silas Redd and guys like stud freshman Su'a Cravens.
When practices get "more physical," the chances of somebody getting hurt go up.
It's just the nature of the beast.
The time exposed to that physical level of play is definitely needed, especially in the fall, but when it happens in the spring, more players tend to be injured.
It's a catch-22 that every coach must deal with: Do we play a "physical style" in spring practice and risk more injury, or allow a little less contact and intensity and try to save players?
To help avoid injury, of course the safe route is to ease up a bit in the spring.
2. Spring Injuries Impact Fall Performance
There is no getting around the issue: Injuries are a negative part of college football that can affect a team's fortunes for years, particularly if a star player suffers a major injury.
This year, Michigan, for instance, is already dealing with a severe injury to linebacker Jake Ryan, an injury that will limit his involvement in spring and fall practice, and could impact the team's defense all season long.
Injuries suffered during the spring are not just spring injuries. The impact is felt throughout the entire fall, especially if it is as severe as the torn ACL Ryan suffered.
An argument could be made that spring practice should not be as aggressive, and that players should not be put at risk, especially given the impact these injuries can have on a season.
But rather than cancelling practices or severely limiting specific players, coaches should take the route that Will Muschamp and his staff have chosen, allowing injured players and the rest of the team a little rest by changing things up at times.
1. No Matter the Precautions, Crazy Stuff Happens
As was demonstrated by Kevin Ware's injury on a routine basketball play vs. Duke in the Elite Eight of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, crazy things happen.
Injuries are part of all sports, at every level.
Football is a violent sport, filled with collisions, bodies being twisted and all kinds of high-speed action.
There are going to be injuries, no matter the precautions taken.
So while in the case of Florida, who are suffering from several key injuries, changing the spring game into a practice is effective, avoiding injury is impossible.
A running back might catch his toe in the grass while making a cut, and blow out his knee.
A quarterback throwing a pass could hit a defensive lineman's helmet while throwing the ball, resulting in a broken hand.
Stuff happens, even in spring practice—just ask Knile Davis, who missed all of 2011 due to an injury suffered in spring practice.
Injuries are part of the game, and changing practice around to protect players more than the usual effective precautions is not going to change that.