While I was in Seattle last weekend, the Washington fans kept asking me about all the players who were sitting out during fall practice. Hopefully, this article will help you understand that it is not necessarily a bad thing.
As many Duck fans painfully remember, the team has had problems with injuries to major contributors throughout the course of the past two seasons. Fans and the media blamed it on practicing too hard late in the season and the type of offense being run by new head coach and offensive coordinator Chip Kelly.
What we really need to recognize is that over the past 20 years, players at all levels have gotten bigger, stronger and faster. When you are playing a contact sport like football, injuries are bound to happen.
Within the first week of fall camp, the Ducks had four wideouts sitting out from an already depleted receiving corps. The discouraging thing is that the two highly-touted newcomers, Diante Jackson and Tyrece Gaines, both were out with sore knees. The other two receivers, Jamere Holland and DJ Davis are out with quad and foot injuries, respectively.
The flu has also been making its way around the team. Most recently, it has hit the offensive linemen. Mark Asper, Charlie Carmichael, and Max Forer were ill on Monday and were joined by three defensive linemen on the sideline.
The positive side is that they are getting sick now instead of during the season. With the increased risk of the flu in the fall and winter, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some teams severely depleted during the season.
As injuries go, it is much better to heal the small injuries now than let them linger. Most players get banged up during the year but continue to play (ask Walter Thurmond about his groin injury last year). If these players can recover before the season, even if it requires them to miss a week in the fall, the benefit is greater than the risk.
Another helpful aspect when it comes to injuries during the season is bye weeks. The Ducks have two during the season this year. One is October 17, six games into the season, and the other is the week before the final game against Oregon State. As I said earlier, players deal with injuries throughout the year and a bye week can give them the rest they need.
This is why teams like Florida schedule a couple buys and a creampuff late in the season. It gives them a chance to stay fresh, but not have to play an entire game. Teams like Oregon are leaning more to this style of scheduling because of the rigors of a 12-game season.
It doesn’t seem that one extra game each fall for the past couple years has affected many teams, but injuries occur when players are tired. Kelly’s offense has always been based on speed and keeping the defense on the run, but it has certainly played a part in the injuries the Ducks have sustained in the past two years.
There is where new Oregon coordinator Mark Helfrich comes in. Helfrich is expected to eventually take over the offensive coordinator position. Helfrich started at Arizona State under Dirk Koetter and helped developed quarterbacks like Andrew Walter.
He brings a pro-style mind to an offense that is strictly spread. If he takes over play-calling, the team will still play fast, but they might be more calm and measured, which would help with mental and physical fatigue.
Finally, injuries in camp are not always bad because it gives opportunities for first-team reps to players who might not normally get them. Whether its because they are young or very raw, having players who don’t normally get many reps practice with the first team helps the depth of the club as well as the overall talent.
Two offensive lineman missed spring practice and it gave reps to players who, if starters were to get hurt during the season, would be invaluable to them when pressed into action. Oregon has the depth to go two and sometimes three deep at different positions, so giving reps evenly to all players is very difficult. Because of the increased practice reps for non-starters, if an injury pops up during the year, look for the Ducks to plug players and not miss a beat.
Injuries are a part of the game and in recent years, the Ducks have gotten the raw end of the deal when it has counted the most. Just remember that whether it's this year or twenty years from now, karma is guaranteed to come back around and the Ducks are due some good luck when it returns.