It’s great to see NFL players across the country come together to organize their own workouts, but there’s obviously a major risk involved as well.
In an insightful piece looking into these unofficial practices, Sports Illustrated‘s Don Banks weighs the potential benefits with the possible downfalls:
The risk of injury that could come out of these unsupervised workouts looms large in the mind of an NFL general manager I talked to, as well as two veteran players agents who echoed his concerns. Neither agent said he had more than one or two clients taking part in any player-organized workouts.
“Quite honestly, I’m waiting for the first ACL tear that happens and then we’ll see if anyone talks about how great this whole workout program is for these young guys,” the GM said. “Every club in a way wishes they were like the old Redskins and had all 80 guys out there working together, but as soon as a prominent player pops an ACL in some high school gym or at some college, what’s going to be the reaction? If someone breaks a leg, who’s there to help? As a GM, the thing that makes me nervous is the what-ifs that could happen without supervision, specifically from a training standpoint.”
Players coming together during a work stoppage is crucial for building camaraderie — there’s no disputing that. And as Banks points out, the 1982 and 1987 work stoppages famously gave the Washington Redskins a chance to get a leg up on their counterparts (they won the Lombardi Trophy in ’83 and ’88.)
But can’t players get together and discuss the playbook and prepare for the season without practicing full tilt and risking injury without the luxury of having coaches and athletic trainers present? That isn’t a rhetorical question — I really want to know.
Another question: Won’t players risk injury by exercising in the offseason regardless of who they’re with? I mean, how much more dangerous are these activities than what these guys might do on their own?
More from Banks, with a possible answer to question No. 2:
One agent said he has counseled his clients to continue working out throughout the lockout, but not necessarily in conjunction with his teammates in an informal practice setting. The risks of injury are simply too great, with not enough reward offsetting them.
People should realize that if players get hurt now, on their own time, that’s a non-football injury and they don’t have to be paid or have their contracts honored after that,” the agent said. “I tell my guys to work out, but under supervision that is professional and to be careful. They have to stay in shape from a cardiovascular and strength standpoint, but other than that I don’t know how important it is to go out and play touch football.”
The unnamed agent makes a great point, and it touches on something I’ve been pondering for much of the offseason. How important is it that these guys work on actual plays in scrimmage form?
I actually have an answer to this one, and as a former football player I believe it to be fairly well-educated. Honestly, the majority of these players don’t need to be working on performing the intricacies of the playbook in May. In training camp, working on the specifics will be important, but only quarterbacks and receivers are truly benefiting from running plays — and they can do that without defenders and linemen.
That’s why we keep hearing that defensive players have nothing to do at these workouts. Football is often made out to be this super-complicated array of X’s and O’s that takes months to grasp, but the majority of positions do not require an intense amount of studying and consequent practicing. Physical conditioning is the key.
You’re an NFL running back? All you need to know is what hole to hit or who to block. That’s it. It’s not rocket science, and you don’t have to be sweating it out on a crappy high school field four months prior to the start of the season, worrying about every single assignment in the system.
So maybe it isn’t worth it.