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Opinion: A modified training schedule could help in injury prevention

There’s no way to prevent all injuries in sports, especially one like football. But the current summer training schedule isn’t helping.

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Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Injuries suck. They’re also inevitable in sports.

Particularly contact sports that also feature speed, power and the occasional acrobatics to make a play - aka, football.

The cause of Tim Patrick’s season-ending Achilles tear yesterday is multi-faceted, no doubt.

It’s possible he had some micro tears already in his Achilles, and one strong burst off the left leg would overload the tendon and cause the full rupture. Perhaps the left leg was slightly overused because of the rehab on his right knee the past 12 months. Perhaps the angle at which he took off on the route was just so that the force on his Achilles was too much.

Some of it could just be inevitable. An Achilles tendon rupture is more likely to occur in men; the peak age is 30-40 years old; and usually occurs in sports that involve running, jumping and sudden starts/stops. The 30-year-old wide receiver is unfortunately three-for-three on those.

The injury just happened, and it’s a huge bummer - for him, for his teammates and coaches, for the team and for all of us fans really looking forward to seeing him back in the game.

Sean Payton, who has been getting to know most of his players over the summer months, got to know Patrick a little more since the wide receiver was in the building rehabbing from last year’s season-ending injury in training camp while the new head coach was getting settled in Dove Valley.

“I think [It’s difficult], especially with a player like him, who is a veteran and who is so well respected,” Payton said after Monday’s practice. “When I got hired here, he was one of the guys that I saw every day because he was rehabbing last year’s injury. That’s what makes it more difficult.”

Unfortunately Patrick - like so many professional football players and athletes generally - was just unlucky.

And this post is not an indictment on him, the team or the NFL in any way.

However, I think some discussion around tweaking the training schedule could be helpful in decreasing some of the injuries happening to players - particularly non-contact injuries that occur during the early part of the season as well as during practices (versus those in a game where contact with another big-bodied player at speed is the main culprit and more difficult to prevent).

Current CBA stipulations for training

Under Article 21 of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and NFLPA, teams have a voluntary nine-week offseason program conducted in three phases -

  • Phase One - two weeks with activities limited to meetings, strength and conditioning, and physical rehabilitation only.
  • Phase Two - three weeks that include on-field workouts with individual or group instruction plus drills conducted at a walk-through pace. No live contact or team offense vs. team defense drills are permitted.
  • Phase Three - four weeks where teams may conduct a total of 10 days of “OTAs”. No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are allowed.

Article 22 of the CBA says clubs can hold one mandatory minicamp for veteran players that must occur during Phase Three. Teams with new head coaches - like Denver - can hold an additional voluntary veteran minicamp as long as it’s conducted prior to the NFL Draft. Teams may also hold a rookie football development program for a period of seven weeks.

So for the Broncos, the offseason basically looked like this:

Report to Dove Valley for meetings/conditioning: April 11

Veteran voluntary minicamp: April 24-26

OTAs: May 23-25, May 30-June 1, June 5-8

Mandatory minicamp: June 13-15

Training camp begins July 19 (rookies); July 25 (veterans)

The glaring issue is that from mid-June until the end of July, players are “off.” I know many of them continue training on their own before camp, and I have no problem with the amount of time overall.

But then they come to training camp, totally amped to get back on the field, ready to prove themselves to coaches to make the roster and anxious to get the new season underway. That can often lead to “starting too fast,” going full speed too early or generally not being physically ready enough for the high intensity of two weeks before a preseason game.

After being off six weeks - and only having a few weeks of conditioning plus 10 days of drills under their belts - players often force the time to get into “football shape.”

A possible solution

Obviously this current schedule has worked fine for most players (and is likely their choice as it is their CBA). With the long season ahead, I understand why they are protective of their free time.

But the long time off just before a short amount of time to ramp up to full speed is a disaster waiting to happen.

And even if an injury doesn’t occur in camp, the high intensity after a break is a major culprit for wear and tear that contributes to injuries a little later in the season.

I have never played football, but I have played and coached many sports and know very well how the body needs proper preparation, long-term training, recovery and maintenance just to sustain through sport. Especially as an athlete goes from the invincible age of 18 to the much more fragile ages of 27, 28...and so on.

I would like to see players have a longer conditioning period - “acclimation time” - after a couple of shorter breaks before training camp:

After mandatory minicamp ends in mid-June, I’d have players back in the building after the July 4th holiday for at least one, preferably two weeks of cardio, football strength and conditioning and yoga.

Then another two weeks off with suggested voluntary circuit workouts and highly recommended yoga before starting training camp the second week of August.

Training camp would be three weeks, the first one designed to be just light conditioning, classroom and drills so players could gradually ramp up to full intensity for the “true” two weeks of training camp.

Go back to two preseason games.

I’m sure there are other ideas, and I’d love for you to share them. I don’t think football is too dangerous or too injury-prone, but training smarter would go a long way in preventing some unnecessary injuries.

Broncos/NFL News

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Tough break for Tim Patrick.

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