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Diner Morning News: Injuries Happen

Michael LombardiContributor IAugust 12, 2009

FOXBORO, MA - JULY 31:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots stretches during training camp on July 31, 2009 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

National Football Post

“I stake my destiny upon hours of uninterrupted work.” -- Charles Baudelaire

 

PRESEASON GAMES: WHO SHOULD PLAY IN WEEK ONE?

Should Tom Brady play in week one of the preseason? Should LT? Should Adrian Peterson? Should Brad Childress call plays? OK, never mind that last one—just being a wise ass.

What should the rule be for playing “star players” in the preseason? There is only one rule: You cannot get ready to win games in the NFL if you don’t play in games. Players need to play; they need to prepare and they need to be serious about the games.

Every morning, we wake up to news about injuries sustained during training camp. When I attended practice during camp, my fear was injuries. When I attend practice during the season, my fear was the opponent.

Injuries in practice during the season never worried me because the players knew how to practice. In camp, when there are more than 80 players, the bad players (and there are always a few of them) can often get the good players hurt—not intentionally but because they can’t stay off the ground and stay in balance.

They can’t control their bodies, so they’re sometimes at the wrong place at the wrong time.

There are two types of injuries: the ones you can’t avoid, regardless of how you practice, and ones you can avoid.

The unavoidable injuries are the work of the unknown. For example, a player jogging and tearing his ACL or his Achilles without any contact is an unavoidable injury, no matter how a team practices. The ones you can avoid are the ones where you practice smartly, with good players working against good players.

So when you hear a team representative say, “We just want to get to the regular season healthy,” their team is not preparing for the season. Last year, we heard that rhetoric from the Browns and they were never ready.

The key is not getting through camp healthy; the key is getting through camp prepared to win games. Injuries are a part of football; you can’t play the game the right way if you worry about injuries.

I always admired how former Giants coach Bill Parcells got his teams ready for camp, using a boxing metaphor to prepare for Week One of the regular season. He focused on the offensive and defensive lines, making sure they had sparred enough rounds to be able to handle the championship fight on opening day.

He would play his lines for a quarter and a half in Week One, then a half in week two, then in week three they’d play into the third quarter, and in the final game, maybe 10 plays.

Nevertheless, to use a "Parcells" term, the lines needed to do the “heavy lifting” in games. He wanted them game ready, and the only way to become game ready is to play in games.

The outcome of the game is not important; the outcome of the repetitions in the game is crucial. Never lose sight of the fact that football is a game of pad level, fundamentals and techniques. Teams cannot improve in these areas without working on them with attention to detail and great effort.

So where does this leave Brady, LT and Peterson?

My sense is that Brady needs to play. He needs to get the feel of the game back in his head, he needs to feel the timing of the game and the pace of the game, and the only way to do that is to play.

He should play in week one with the first team offensive line. He must increase his playing time as the preseason goes along, because he will not be ready for Buffalo if he doesn’t have a feel for the game under his belt. The tempo from the preseason to the regular season is significant.

That speed, that tempo, will not be duplicated in preseason or practice, so for Brady to get back, he must gain that feel.

How about the rookie quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman? That one is easy.

They need to play, and they need to play early in the game when the good players are on the field. If they’re going to be ready for the speed of the game, they need to play.

Last year as a rookie, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw almost 60 passes in the preseason. He was clearly preparing for the opener against the Lions.

As for running backs, there’s a fine line. Running backs need to feel the game. They need to work more on their pass protection, then their run skills. The speed of those blitzes will increase tenfold from the walkthroughs to the practices to the preseason games.

Pass protection is the hardest element to feel in week one, and if the running backs haven’t prepared in the preseason, they will blow an assignment in the opener. My vote would be for LT, Peterson and other top backs to play and prepare for the opener.

I know the perception of the preseason is that it doesn’t matter, doesn’t count, and players can get ready to play. Well, last year, when Indy’s Peyton Manning couldn’t practice or play in games, his rust in the opener was obvious.

No matter how talented a player is, he needs the work.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

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