Coaches Have Tough Decisions Regarding Injuries
JUGGLING HEALTH & TEAM NEEDS
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- Can anyone think of any other profession where a broken pinky and a concussion can cause the same kind of quandary?
When it comes to the National Football League in general, and the Ravens in particular, the two are indeed one and the same, especially when the league’s recent aggressive safety initiatives are considered.
Receiver Derrick Mason now has his right pinky broken in two places with a splint in place after last Thursday’s loss to Atlanta. Several other Ravens have also had minor concussions over the season’s first half, necessitating plenty of careful deliberation and handling before returning them to action.
The Ravens were also plagued by at least a half-dozen players having back problems in training camp, which can severely limit range of motion and, in turn, their ability to play the world’s most violent game at its top level.
The most high-profile of these situations involved former supplemental draft pick Jared Gaither, whose thoracic disk problem made it extremely difficult for him to bend into his stance and get out of the three-point position in time to pick up a blocker, a problem that, in turn, endangers his quarterback’s health.
Rule changes in recent years protecting defenseless receivers and long snappers, as well as a more stringent fine and suspension scale, are meant to discourage players from unleashing the kind of damaging hits that can cause broken bones and concussions.
However, during the NFL Network’s recent "100 Greatest Players" series, many film clips were shown of players like Dick "Night Train" Lane throwing around clothesline tackles like a billionaire spends money.
And today, players going for the SportsCenter-style big hit are caught in a no-win situation. Either they make the hit and get injured, fined and/or suspended, or they miss the hit and a ball carrier gets a long gain or a touchdown.
But since football is a collision sport, rather than a contact sport, what can be done when a player like Mason, who would probably want to play without any arms or legs, if he could, wants to return to action before he’s feasibly ready?
"As a coach, if you don’t feel like a guy can perform, if you think he’s just not up to speed … you make a decision and you put [the backup] up because you think he’s a better player at this time in that situation," head coach John Harbaugh said. "If the trainers don’t think he should be playing, it’s over. You don’t even have a conversation about it. If it’s one of those things where he can play but it’s a pain-type of thing, a pain tolerance issue, believe me, there are some things out there that hurt so much that a guy can’t perform through it."
This year, the Ravens have been lucky in this regard. Just five players currently on injured reserve after ending each of the last three years with double-digit numbers of players have been shelved for the season.
In fact, nine of the team’s 11 offensive starters have taken the field for the first snap of all nine games so far and six defensive players can say the same, an extraordinary number for this point in the season. Plus, with the team having had a bye week and a mini-bye within the last three weeks, that can only help the situation.
Those figures encompass the Ravens’ entire starting offensive line, both principal wide receivers and three of the team’s four starting linebackers. Regarding the latter unit, Jameel McClain has only missed one start, and that was in favor of the equally-aggressive Dannell Ellerbe in Week Three against Cleveland. In sharp contrast to the team’s opponent this week, the Carolina Panthers, who are on their fourth-string running back and third-string quarterback. In all, 10 players have missed some practice time this week, further lessening the offensive impact of a team already ranked last in the league in scoring offense and total yardage gained.
Panthers head coach John Fox has his own take on the injury question: "I think it’s just sometimes you have those types of situations. We’ve been there before, here, so I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily being on the field so long. It’s just that we haven’t scored a lot of points."
Linebacker Jon Beason has plenty of faith in Fox and his team’s medical staff. "You just rely on guys to step up," he said. "We know the coaches are going to do the best thing and put the best guy out there who gives us the best chance of winning."
But too many injuries and miscalculations on when they are healed can give a team no chance at all, the worst kind of quandary it could possibly face.
TRIVIA TIME: The first time the Ravens played in Charlotte was during their 1996 debut season. Vinny Testaverde was sacked four times as the Ravens lost in the season’s next-to-last game, 27-16.
What Baltimore-area high school product had one of the Panthers’ sacks that day?
ANSWER: Former Woodlawn High School running back Carlton Bailey had one of the four sacks of Testaverde in the first Ravens-Panthers matchup at what was then called Ericsson Stadium in 1996.
At that point, Bailey was in the final stages of his career, one including three of the Buffalo Bills’ four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s. In fact, Bailey was solely responsible for one of those appearances.
At 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, Bailey was fast and durable, playing in all 16 regular season games in eight of his 10 years in the league. He played in mostly 3-4 schemes, but was able to adapt to a 4-3 set during his time with the Giants.
November 18, 2010
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