NFL: Look to the Backups

Jeff Little@@JeffLittle32Senior Writer IAugust 28, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 1: Linebacker Joe Mays #51 of the Philadelphia Eagles gets set during minicamp practice at the NovaCare Complex on May 1, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

NFL franchises are officially back to work, their training camps in full swing.  Adversity in the form of injuries has also affected teams as it has every year; several key players have gone down with significant injuries.

When it comes to injuries in the NFL, it is identical to riding a motorcycle.  It is a known fact that if you ride one, you will go down at some point in time, and hopefully you can recover from any injuries.  Coincidentally, when it comes to injuries in the NFL, it isn’t a matter of if it happens but a matter of when.

Let’s be honest: injuries suck, but they’re part of the game and a setback that has to be overcome. It is also an opportunity for the backup player to step up and prove he can be the guy. 

Can Joe Mays be the guy in Philadelphia? Can Corey Irvin, Nick Hayden or Marlon Favorite step up in Carolina? One thing is for certain: both clubs and us fans we’ll  find out right away.

Here are a couple of guys who have made it happen before. 

1. Kurt Warner stepped in for Trent Green in 1999
2. Tom Brady stepped in for Drew Bledsoe in 2001
3. Kerry Collins stepped in for Rich Gannon in 2003
4. James Harrison stepped in for Clark Haggans in 2005

If the entire organization (owner, front office, scouting department & coaching staff) is on the same page and has properly built their team, they’ll be prepared for this scenario.  This is accomplished by drafting well with a three  to five year vision in mind and clearly defined attainable goals.

In theory, a team's first and second round draft picks should be integral pieces to the puzzle that have the potential to be longtime fixtures for a franchise.  A team should be drafting potential starters or players that can develop into starters in every round. However, a team is actually built in rounds three through seven.  Let’s not forget selecting undrafted free agents to develop.

It has been said more than once that the best laid plans can and will go awry.  Injuries have negatively affected the outcome of the season of several teams. It brings to mind the John Madden Football curse.  I know to some people this might sound just a tad out of context, but follow me if you will, and it will make sense.

It must be stated that this isn’t a knock on John Madden Football. I absolutely love the game and have been playing it for years. Going back over the last ten years, significant player injuries and being on the cover of the game have been synonymous. NFL players were featured on the cover of the game for the first time in 1999.

• 1999 Garrison Hearst—He had an outstanding regular season, finishing third in rushing yards.  However, he suffered a broken ankle in the Divisional Playoff game against the Falcons. The severe break caused Hearst to miss two full NFL seasons. The team went 8-8 and third place in the division.

• 2000 Barry Sanders—He is pictured over Madden’s left shoulder on the cover.  Sanders abruptly retired in July before the start of the '99 season. The team went 8-8, third place in the division.

• 2001 Eddie George—George’s curse came in '01 in the form of him failing to break 1,000 yards rushing and the Titans going 7-9 and missing the playoffs.

• 2002 Dante Culpepper—Culpepper missed four games due to injury, threw for 1,300 fewer yards and 19 fewer TD passes than in 2000. The Vikings went 5-11, their worst record since 1984.

• 2003 Marshall Faulk—Faulk played in the same number of games, but ran for 430 yards less and had four fewer TDs than in 2001,  which was his worst season since 1996. The Rams scored only 16 more points then their 1996 team that had Tony Banks at QB and Lawrence Phillips at RB.  The team went 7-9 and finished third in the division.

• 2004 Michael Vick—Vick missed the first 11 games of the season with a broken leg. Vick’s QB rating, completion percentage and yards per attempt were all down from 2002.  (This is clearly a statistic Vince Young wasn’t aware of when he stated in a September interview with Esquire magazine that playing QB was all about your legs.)  The team went 5-11 and took fourth place in the division.

• 2005 Ray Lewis—Lewis, for the most part, avoided the curse.  His numbers were slightly down from the previous year and he missed one game.  However, he didn’t record an interception in 2004, the first time in his career.

• 2006 Donovan McNabb—After Week 9, McNabb suffered a hernia and was lost for the season. McNabb threw for more interceptions; his yards per attempt and completion percentage were down from 2004.  The Eagles finished 6-10, in last place, and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

• 2007 Shaun Alexander—Alexander missed six regular season games with a broken foot.  He finished the season with 896 yards and six TDs, his lowest numbers since his rookie season.  He had a 3.6 yards per carry average—his career average was 4.4 yards per carry.  The team went 10-6, went to the playoffs, and lost in the divisional round to the Packers.

• 2008 Vince Young—Vince Young threw for 2,546 yards, nine TDs and 17 interceptions.  He did complete 62 percent of his passes and Tennessee went 10-6, losing to the Chargers in the playoffs.

• 2009 Bret Favre—Favre passed for 3,472 yards, 22 TDs and 22 interceptions.  Favre and the Jets experienced a hot start, but faded late after Favre injured his throwing arm, and the season collapsed.  Brett threw six fewer TDs and seven more INTs than in 2007. The Jets finished 9-7 after an 8-3 start and missed the playoffs, losing to the Dolphins with their former QB at the helm.

The NFL is the epitome of the next man up.  Overcoming adversity and moving on is the name of the game.  A highly important factor in answering the obvious question—can the team trust the backup and rally around him?


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