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Labriola On

Labriola on rash of preseason injuries


Ready or not, here it comes:

  • Injuries are as much a part of football as blocking and tackling. So says Coach Mike Tomlin, and he says it often and he believes it always. Preseason games are a part of football as well – at the college level, these kinds of games are called Middle Tennessee at Alabama, or Georgia State at Oregon, not to be sarcastic. When you stir in the Bill Cowherism that "perception is reality," the mixture becomes something fans are finding difficult to swallow.
  • There is no easy or simple solution to what has been happening all over the NFL, as big name after big name is being siphoned off the field for varying lengths of time by injuries occurring during the training camp/preseason portion of the calendar. On the website,, there is a story headlined, "Tales from the Training Room: An NFL Injury Roundup," and it's over 5,000 words long.
  • And starting with those on the schedule tonight, each team still has two preseason games to play.
  • There is no simple solution, because there are financial considerations to both the owners and the players; and there is the need for practices and some dress rehearsals in order for the product to live up to what has come to be considered as "professional football." Rookies and other new-to-the-NFL players have to be evaluated, and recently-signed unrestricted free agents have to be acclimated.
  • All of those are legitimate reasons for training camp and preseason games. But none of those legitimate reasons make it any easier for fans to see their favorite team's roster being gutted by injuries either. Whether by sheer volume, or as a result of a marquee player or two blowing out a knee or tearing an Achilles, a team can go from contender to also-ran from the time training camp opens until the start of the regular season, or an also-ran can become a contender by having its primary competition brought back to the pack.
  • That can contribute to the kind of parity that has helped turn the NFL into the most popular sport in America, but there also is a danger of fans becoming disenchanted by what they perceive as players' seasons being wasted because of injuries in preseason games.

Check out the highlight photos from the Steelers vs Packers game.

  • When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers comes out and says, "It's difficult to lose a guy like that in a meaningless game," after wide receiver Jordy Nelson tore an ACL last Sunday in the same game in which the Steelers lost All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey to a broken fibula, he verbalized the fans' perception, which in turn has become reality for a large portion of the NFL's paying customers.
  • Packers President Mark Murphy, a member of the NFL Competition Committee told on July 20: "At the league level, we continue to study the preseason. Those of you who have been around the league for a long time, it's changed dramatically. The way the players train in the offseason, the preseason games are just significantly different. The fourth preseason game, very few starters across the league play. They're all on Thursday. So there are some who look and say, 'Why do we play that game?' The flip side is it's a chance to look at and make some roster decisions on younger players and develop some players. But it is an issue within the league."
  • More and more, it's the fans who are asking, "'Why do we play that game?"
  • In the meantime, the Steelers will be playing one of those tomorrow afternoon, and there are many players for whom it looms as the most important football game of their lives. Brad Wing and Jordan Berry. Josh Harris. L.T. Walton and Cam Thomas. Those are some of the names who fall into that category.
  • Wing, the second-year punter is averaging 49.6 yards on nine punts, with one touchback and four inside the 20-yard line. His net average is 38.9. Berry, the rookie, is averaging 46.0 yards on 10 punts, with no touchbacks and four inside the 20-yard line. His net average is 37.3 Too close for Coach Mike Tomlin to call at this point, but he does feel relatively certain one of those guys will be the team's punter in 2015, as opposed to waiting to see what's on the waiver wire.
  • In the fight for the job as DeAngelo Williams' backup during the two games Le'Veon Bell will miss with his suspension, Josh Harris has the most experience, and he sure does look the part with his shirt off. But Harris has missed practice time with a shoulder injury first and a foot injury second. A good game against the Bills followed by getting himself on the field for a few practices in a row could make Tomlin feel much more comfortable about trusting Harris to be what the Steelers need in that role.
  • L.T. Walton is coming on, and Cam Thomas pulled the bone-head move of jumping offside while playing nose tackle to nullify a Bud Dupree sack in the game against the Packers. The Steelers traditionally have kept six defensive linemen on their initial 53-man roster, and right now there are three they know can play, one who has enough potential to keep, and everybody else. Cam Heyward, Steve McLendon, and Stephon Tuitt are the three they know can play, and Dan McCullers has enough potential to keep. A good game from Walton would illustrate the kind of continued improvement that can result in a roster spot.
  • Maurkice Pouncey is not soft. He's not injury-prone, either, at least as it applies to what people in the football business understand as injury-prone. But he is one of the unluckiest great players in modern Steelers history.
  • Pouncey missed all but eight snaps of the 2013 season after teammate David DeCastro inexplicably dove into his knee along the line of scrimmage in a game against the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field. Now Pouncey is on a path to be placed on the injured reserve/designated to return list with a broken fibula that will cost him at least half of a season. In the football business, injury-prone refers to a series of pulled hamstrings, pulled groins, the things that can be traced to a lesser level of conditioning. Torn ligaments and broken bones are not in that category.
  • On the play in which his fibula was broken, Pouncey was something like 7 yards downfield blocking somebody when safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix rolled up the back of his leg while making a tackle on Le'Veon Bell. If you have to label Pouncey, he's not injury prone as much as maybe too athletic for his own good.
  • And yes, like Jordy Nelson, it's difficult to lose a guy like Maurkice Pouncey in a meaningless game.
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