Steelers and Injuries: An Abundance of Caution


Jul 27, 2013; Latrobe, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le

Injuries were a factor in the 2012.  When aren’t they in football?  However, Art Rooney II made comments in the off season that the Steelers were going to try to figure out if any of those injuries were preventable from a conditioning standpoint.  I think many people had the same thought.  Has shortening training camp come with a high cost?  The players thought that the extensive practices were shortening their football careers and bargained to take personal control of much of their workouts.  It’s a brutal sport.  How do you extend your football career?  Get hit less?  However, is giving up practice and conditioning time within an organizational structure enough to extend a football player’s career?  I don’t know.

Tearing ligaments certainly is not conducive to extending anyone’s football career.  Missing an entire season because you had to have surgery could, at the very least, have a direct impact on earning potential.  Heaven forbid that the player is in the last year of his contract and needed to have a break-out season to secure a new one.  Some injuries can’t be helped.  They are just accidents.  How can anyone tell if the injury is because of poor conditioning?  It also begs the question of how well players condition themselves without the team staff overseeing the training.  I am sure some take it very seriously.  However, I’m sure others find it easy to put off their workouts or skimp on what they do.

Perhaps if the injury comes at the start of training camp some might surmise it is because of the player did not show up in top physical condition.  The other question is, how should the teams structure practice?  Clearly they can’t go from 0 to 60 in a day.  Should it be a gradual process and how long should it take?  The teams were in pads on the third day.  There isn’t time to be gradual.  They have a month to get to a 53-man roster.  The onus is on the player to come to camp ready to get hit.  Even so, the injuries remain a concern.  So, what is the Steeler answer?

It seems to be an abundance of caution.  When the Steelers had their first “allowed” time with the players based on the CBA, they put the players through some extensive physical tests.  I did not see the exact details but it sounded like the tests were focused differently from the traditional conditioning tests the teams give when training camps start in July.  Some players called them stress tests, which suggests cardiac-related testing, but I can’t imagine that was all they did.

Now, as Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out in his blog on the PPG subscription-based site that the new term being tossed around is “discomfort.”  To me, this shows an abundance of caution.  In “the good old days” you pushed through pain and didn’t “wimp” out when something hurt.  The mantra of “no pain, no gain” has been around for a long time.  But is that changing?  If an organization is unsure of a player’s true conditioning status, should they be paying attention to “discomfort?”  Well, as you see the injury reports pouring in from other teams, perhaps the Steelers’ approach is warranted.  If you have already invested money in a player and that player knows your system and game plan, is abundance of caution warranted and for how long?

The Steelers released defensive tackle Omar Hunter and cornerback Nigel Malone on Jul 29th.  Dale Lolley who reports on the Steelers for the Washington, PA Observer-Reporter tweeted that Malone struggled to make it through the conditioning test.  Malone had just been signed to replace Justin King, whose was injured during the spring OTAs and released.  It’s eyebrow-raising to hear of someone who is looking to make it in the NFL not showing up in top condition, but it probably happens more often than we realize.  What if that player was someone with a nice fat contract?  Think Albert Haynesworth of the Washington Redskins in 2010.  That was ugly and probably involved more than conditioning.  How about Jacoby Jones of the Baltimore Ravens this year?  The Ravens announced that Jones failed his initial conditioning test and then Jones passed the second test.  Why the publicity here?  Conditioning can be an issue, but how much does it cost a team when the veterans don’t show up in good condition?  So, the Steelers appear to have adopted an abundance of caution – with Roethlisberger, with Cortez Allen, and with likely a few others.  However, injuries are a part of the game and I wonder how much can be avoided.  We saw another injury announced last night – another at cornerback – that’s at least three for the Steelers at that position since OTAs started:  Justin King, Cortez Allen, and now DeMarcus Van Dyke.  Is it conditioning, the type of plays they are practicing, or just bad luck – or a combination?  I think it is going to be impossible to tell, but the discussion will likely continue.  In the meantime, I wonder how long the Steelers will be cautious about “discomfort.”