Injuries are a part of the high-impact sport of football. How a team copes with its injuries is generally a much greater barometer for success than how well it can avoid them. At this time of year NFL teams have relatively few health concerns to deal with, as the rigors of mandatory training camp and preseason games have yet to unleash the first barrage of injuries.
There are however, an array of players coming off of (or still rehabbing) 2009 injuries that will be watched closely as training camp approached. For young players there is the concern that a protracted injury could hamper their development. For older veterans, that it may be the beginning of a player’s body beginning to wear down.
Here are the injury concerns teams will follow closely in the coming months.
Favre is not likely to see much field time during training camp, a situation as much created by choice and design as injury.
That said, he did undergo ankle surgery this offseason to repair damage done in the 2009 playoffs
After a rebirth last year in Minnesota, his ability to turn a second straight camp-less campaign into pro bowl numbers will be a major determinant in how Minnesota stacks up against the other elite teams of the NFC.
Should he prove able to resume last year’s form, the Vikings should be primed for another deep playoff run and potential Super Bowl berth. If this last surgery proves to be one injury too many and Favre returns to earth then Minnesota could find itself slipping into the wildcard race against much younger teams like Atlanta and Philadephia.
Denver is pinning much of its hopes on the ability of several aging veterans to stave off the effects of time across its defense. As it stands there is not a starter along the defensive line or secondary under the age of 30.
Nowhere is this need for the fountain of youth more apparent than at the nose tackle position. Arguably the most important position in a 3-4 defense; Denver filled the role this offseason with former division-rival Jamal Williams.
When at his best Williams is a disruptive clog in the middle that can eat blockers and collapse pockets at an elite level. He is also a 34 year-old player with bad knees who spend virtually the entire 2009 season on the IR list due to a triceps tear.
If his 350 pound frame cannot hold up, Denver could be looking at another tough year against the run after giving up 129 ground yards a game in 2009.
Washington’s broken leg in 2009 opened the door for Shonn Greene to shine. Not only did this help punch Washington’s ticket out of New York, but likely helped hasten along Thomas Jones’ departure despite a 1400 yard 2009 season.
Following a trade to the run-starved Seattle Seahawks, Washington’s ability to return from the debilitating injury was given extra weight when Seattle cut recently acquired running back LenDale White.
Washington quickly ascended from the third-down speedster of a running back committee to potentially being the Seahawks leading (albeit not starting) running back despite his injury yet to be fully rehabbed.
His current competition for touches will be with Justin Forsett and Julius Jones, comprising what very well could be the NFL’s smallest backfield at an average weight of 199 pounds.
Some players bring more to the field than simple performance. Urlacher is clearly slowing down as age and a number of injuries have stripped him of his status as a perennial defensive player of the year candidate. He had been able take the field, albeit playing through nagging injuries the two years prior before last year’s dislocated wrist derailed him for essentially the entire season.
He is still a pro-bowl caliber linebacker when healthy, combining good instincts with hard-hitting to help supplant his decreasing speed. He has also been the emotional leader of the Bears defense throughout his tenure—and his absence in 2009 was sorely felt as the Chicago Bears gave up nearly 340 yards per game.
Mired behind two of the NFC’s best teams in the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, Chicago will need a healthy Urlacher playing at full speed if they hope to have any shot at making the playoffs in 2010.
It cannot be emphasized just how important Welker’s successful return from injury is to the New England Patriots. Seeing him on the practice field already is something of a surprise, but it will remain to be seen what happens in the time leading up to the start of the year.
Beyond being Tom Brady’s primary weapon, he also serves the roles of emergency outlet generally reserved for tight end and running back dump-offs. His utter reliability in this role allows the team to be more aggressive in stretching the field with Randy Moss.
The additions Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez should help if he isn’t ready at the start of the year, while Julian Edelman also showed promise in Welker’s absence.
Yet with all that said the New England Patriots offense is a completely different beast when Welker is on the field. The time frame of his recovery could be especially weighted by what should be among the tougher divisional races this upcoming year.
Playing in the Super Bowl on an injured ankle highlighted the importance of Freeney to the Indianapolis Colts defense.
It also served to underscore the fact that Indianapolis’ best defender has not played a full 16 games since 2006.
Freeney’s disruptive abilities are due in large part to his great speed from the defensive end position. At 268 pounds his size falls somewhere between what you would typically expect of a defensive end and what would generally be converted to a rush-backer in this era’s 3-4 defense-heavy league.
That size and speed combination has allowed him to post double digit sack totals in six of the seven seasons where he has played a full (or close to) season. It also makes him more susceptible to the constant pounding of the NFL trenches.
At 30 years of age he has showed no sign of slowing with regards to performance, but it will remain to be seen what effect it has on the speed of his recovery.
Brandon Marshall makes the list as one of the more unexpected entries following hip surgery that should keep him out until the beginning of training camp.
When asked if Miami was aware that the star receiver would potentially need offseason surgery before acquiring him head coach Tony Sparano responded with, "I would say that … uh … well … no. It just came up. It’s something that’s no different than Nate Garner (recent injury) or anybody else right now. It’s just something that came up…”
While relatively minor surgery would likely not have prevented the Dolphins from pulling the trigger on a trade to bring in the talented former Bronco, it may have impacted the asking price had they known.
Given that Marshall will be working to acquaint himself with an entirely new offense that includes 24 year-old quarterback Chad Henne, the sooner he can step onto the Miami Dolphins practice field the better.
Staying with the Miami Dolphins, running back Ronnie Brown’s ability to return from lisfranc surgery is another major concern.
When healthy Brown has been one of the primary hubs around which the Dolphins offense turns. Not only is he their starting tailback, but also the focal point upon which Miami runs its wildcat offense.
Miami elected to put its faith in Brown by not bringing in another back to provide insurance for the tandem of Brown and the 33 year-old Ricky Williams.
With two of its three best skill-position players on offense coming back from surgery, Miami could be facing a difficult start to the season if either player’s rehab falls behind schedule.
For a player who is just 23, Sanchez has already seen a lot in his short NFL career. He went from a highly lauded rookie capable of toppling divisional giant New England to an interception-prone goat that put up 18 interceptions in a 10 game span.
That was followed up by a surprise postseason berth that ended up stretching all the way to the conference championship game.
His eventful first year was capped by offseason knee surgery to correct a partial dislocation in his left knee.
The Jets made several high-profile moves this offseason feeling that they were a team primed to make the jump from playoff upstart to super bowl contender. That transition will strongly impacted by how Sanchez performs in his second year in the NFL.
Sanchez has new tools with which to work with in running back Ladainian Tomlinson and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, and will be looking to make his way to the field as quickly as possible in order to prove he can step into a more focal role in the run-centric New York Jets offense.
The NFL’s evolution to a pass-first league has brought new focus to the safety position. Darren Sharper’s resurgence behind a turnover-happy Saints defense and Kansas City’s high drafting of Eric Berry were counterpointed by just how much a pair of teams were impacted by injuries to their starting strong safeties.
The first of those teams, the New York Giants, watched as a fast start slowly dissolved into 8-8 mediocrity as they struggled to replace the young Phillips.
The formerly vaunted Giants defense slipped from eighth in 2008 to 15th against the pass in 2009, which triggered a major reset along the defense that saw Osi Omenyiora and Chris Canty pulled out of the starting lineup while a big contract was laid out to give Phillips a running mate in free safety Antrel Rolle.
Although the list is not intended to rank any of these players in terms of their injury impact, it would be impossible not to give number one status to the Steelers strong safety.
With Polamalu in the lineup Pittsburgh looked to be on pace to challenge for a second straight Super Bowl. With Polamalu only appearing in five games however, the Steelers failed to make the playoffs due in large part to a five game losing streak kicked off by Polamalu reinjuring his left knee in week 10.
The concern entering 2010 is not only how his knee can recover from the two injuries of 2009, but also if it could be a harbinger to the toll the smaller safety’s high-impact play could have on his body.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers to retain their elite defense they will have to hope that Polamalu can return to his heavy hitting ways, and not follow in the footsteps of similarly sized and styled Bob Sanders.