After limping through an injury-plagued season for the third time in the last four years in 2013, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy appears committed to handling and dealing with injury issues as they arise, knowing that he works in a profession where at least some of the injuries can't be prevented.
"We have to be real aware of what we’ve been through the last couple years," said McCarthy, according to a transcript from the recently completed NFL Owners Meetings in Orlando. "I’m not saying we’re going to get hurt again this year. We just have to be ready to play with a bunch of guys at 5, 6, 700 plays as opposed to thinking we’re going to have a handful play 1,000. That’s what it’s coming down to."
It's not as if McCarthy and the Packers aren't going to try their damndest to ward off injuries before they happen, indeed, they've been trying to do so for years. McCarthy has attempted to do his part by altering the practice schedule.
The Packers also have spent more than $150 million on the latest round of renovations at Lambeau Field that features the addition of the CRIC (conditioning, rehab and instruction center) that was completed late last season.
"The CRIC is a FieldTurf area that measures the width of a regulation football field by roughly 30 yards long," reads a description at the team's official website. "It can be used for a number of strength and conditioning purposes, as a rehab area for injured players and for walk-through practices, which are becoming more important as collective bargaining rules limit the number of on-field workouts year-round."
Also included in the renovations were a new weight room and cafeteria with an on-site kitchen. McCarthy has gone so far as to make note of changes in nutrition in interviews as evidence of the steps taken to curb the injury epidemic.
If tens of millions of dollars can't put a stop to the injuries, it's difficult to say what will, but McCarthy refuses to rest on his laurels.
"It never stops," said McCarthy on Wednesday. "I think you have to look at things, control the controlables. You look at how you practice them, you look at the stress points of every aspect of your training. I think it’s important to characterize your injuries. There’s a percentage of them you can’t avoid. It’s part of the game. When you get into the fatigure injuries and training injuries, that’s where you have to take some responsibility of your program.
"The other part of it is how fast our players are coming back from injuries. You look at the rehab and getting them back on the field. That’s something we take a hard look. I think we have outstanding personnel in strength and conditioning and our medical group. Our players are cared for at a very high level. We’re very comfortable with that. It’s something the last three out of four years have been tough."
The Packers have lost a league-high 153 games by preferred starters due to injury over the past two seasons, according to the annual studies published by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. The Packers ranked sixth in the NFL with 70 games missed last season and have had as many as 91 games missed in 2010, the year they won the Super Bowl.
And perhaps that's the most important takeaway from all the statistics. In spite of all the injuries, the Packers have qualified for the playoffs for five consecutive seasons, claimed three straight division titles and won one world championship.
Somehow the Packers have weathered the storm and continue to do so. Their approach to the offseason seems to fall in line with McCarthy's stressing the importance of preparing many players to play hundreds of snaps rather than a few with a thousand.
The only players on the defensive side of the football to play more than 1,000 snaps last season, according to statistics kept at ProFootballFocus.com (premium content), were linebacker A.J. Hawk and cornerback Tramon Williams. The only non-offensive lineman on the other side of the football to see more than 1,000 plays was wide receiver Jordy Nelson.
And so the Packers are focusing on prepping as many players possible for multiple and versatile roles. It's why McCarthy has been hesitant to dive head first into naming Micah Hyde a full-time safety, and why he's leaving open the possibility of nearly any offensive lineman coming away with the starting center job.
It's also why the Packers signed Julius Peppers in free agency and have created an "Elephant" position that is sort of a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end, a position that will be shared by Mike Neal and Nick Perry and perhaps an incoming rookie or two. McCarthy knows better than to rely on Peppers and Peppers alone.
"I would say just because of our past experience the last couple years, when we went to the 3-4 one of the biggest reasons was to have that many body types," said McCarthy. "Now (Peppers) is an exception to the body type, as many as 6-3, 6-4, 6-5, 255-60 pound men on your football team, because not only offense and defensively the way you want to utilize them, but the ability to match up favorability on special teams so I don't think you ever from that perspective have enough and, if you look at our injury situation the last couple years, we probably wish we had more."
Still six months away from the start of the 2014 season, McCarthy obviously isn't as anxious as most fans to name the team's starting lineup. He knows there will be injuries between now and September, now and the end of the season. While he hopes there will be fewer of them than previous seasons, he also knows it's naive to assume the Packers can simply prevent them from occuring entirely.
So in March and April, May and June, July and August, the Packers are anticipating injuries. And they're taking advantage of an offseason roster size of 90 players to fill-in as needed.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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