NFL Training Camp: Major Takeaways as Injury Bug Runs Rampant

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NFL Training Camp: Major Takeaways as Injury Bug Runs Rampant
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Jeremy Maclin's season is over after a torn ACL in practice

The NFL opened its preseason with last night’s Hall of Fame Game between the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys signifying the looming 2013-14 season.

The biggest takeaway from training camps around the league isn’t an impressive rookie or an irritating hold out—it’s been the injuries.

Some notable, key players have already seen their season end before the preseason even began.

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin suffered a torn ACL in his right knee on July 27. He was the first big name to suffer a serious injury this summer. Later that same day, Baltimore Ravens’ tight end Dennis Pitta suffered a dislocated hip; ending his season.

Injuries happen; unfortunately they’re part of the game. It seems, however, that the injuries have increased in both quantity and severity. NFL training camps used to pit players against each other at high speeds and great intensity in the blazing summer heat—then do it again a second time that day.

Now the NFL has instituted new practice regimen in order to protect teams' million-dollar assets. Because of which, there is minimal contact in practices. Bill Pennington of The New York Times said it best:

At N.F.L. training camps across the nation this week, it’s as if a bunch of touch football games have broken out.

The trend against tackling and what is known in football parlance as “live contact” began about five years ago, but it has been especially pronounced this summer.

More players have recently suffered devastating injuries. The Denver Broncos lost center Dan Koppen to a torn ACL; Miami Dolphins receiver Armon Binns tore his ACL and MCL; and New York Jets cornerback Aaron Berry suffered a knee injury as well. Just announced this morning was Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga to miss the season with a torn ACL.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter has been all over injuries this summer with a laundry list of injury reports littering his Twitter page.

Philadelphia Eagles’ first-year head coach Chip Kelly has taken matters into his own hands by banning tackling in his practices for the remainder of training camp. In an attempt to avoid injury, what long-term cost could this have on the team’s preparation?

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk posted on nbcsports.com discussing the issue of limited padded practices during the regular season under the current collective bargaining agreement.

During the 17-week regular season, teams will have a maximum of only 14 padded practices.

More specifically, teams can have 11 padded practices during the first 11 weeks of the season, with two padded practices permitted in a given week only once. Then, for the final six weeks of the season, a total of three padded practices may be conducted.

It’s too early to gauge the effect of limited contact and we’re stepping into uncharted waters. The NFL has taken strides to avoid injury as much as possible, but it’s inevitable—it’s a violent sport.

The NFL also instituted a mandatory knee and thigh pad policy this season. The padding used to be optional for players, many of which didn’t use because they found them a hindrance. Now that they’re mandatory, the NFL will institute an official to watch for players in violation of the rule as reported by Tarik El-Bashir of csnwashington.com.

“The NFL has a uniform policeman, for lack of a better definition, at every game,” referee Gene Steratore told Redskins beat reporters during a question and answer session Friday. “In the event a player doesn’t have a knee pad in, that uniform policeman will see that. When we have a natural break in the game, a commercial break, change of possession, that representative is going to notify that player that he’s not permitted to reenter the game until he’s properly equipped.”

Players are meant to be hit, tackled and punished. It’s possible that by limiting contact, a player’s body becomes unconditioned to the consistent abuse and becomes more susceptible to injury.

By limiting the contact players aren’t able to practice some of the most fundamental aspects of their well-being. If a player can’t practice tackling, how can he execute an open field tackle on Adrian Peterson? If a cornerback can’t practice tackling against the second team offense, how can he haul down Calvin Johnson running free downfield?

It’s the rock and the hard place. Teams want tough, hard-nosed intensity in their game, but literally can’t afford to subject their investments—because that’s what they are—to the attrition.

Perhaps everyone needs to toughen up a little bit.

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