Every year at this time the casualty reports from NFL training camps are filled with carnage. So far this year, TE Dennis Pitta, WR Jeremy Maclin, CB Aaron Berry, WR Armon Binns and C Dan Koppen are done for the year before a preseason snap is taken. Playoff chances are dramatically altered as one player after another suffers a season ending or hampering injury in early practices.
What is occurring in the first weeks of training camp that seems to precipitate such serious injuries? There is a dramatic difference between coming into camp "in shape" and being "in football shape" and the first sustained contact puts extra stress on player’s bodies.
Not so long ago training camps were used to whip out of shape players into playing form in the sweltering heat of college campuses across the country. In the long off-season players would stop training, revert to old eating patterns, lose stamina and gain weight. No longer.
The competitive pressure and off-season conditioning programs that teams hold force players to a standard of fitness year round. They work with private trainers on nutrition and weight training. Teams are allowed to have "voluntary" four day a week off-season workout programs for nine weeks. They may be voluntary in the Collective Bargaining Agreement but woe to the player who defies his coach’s wishes that he participated.
For the safety of payers, new rules were negotiated in the 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement that eliminated almost all off-season contact drills. There are new limitations on the amount of padded contact during training camp and the season. This is so players do not leave their best play on the practice field and unnecessarily incur injury risk. The effect is to send players into training camp who have not been hit in seven months.
When a group of incredibly fast, unbelievably large and strong athletes come together and have had none of the jarring impact that takes a toll on every joint in the human body for months and then dramatically does contact practices with fresh bodies -- it puts shock and trauma on the body it is not prepared for. Inevitably, serious injuries occur. Perhaps the NFL teams can design a better transition period to ramp up more slowly. Until then, the casualties will continue to pile up.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.