Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Injuries, Inc.

One of the X factors stemming from the prolonged owners’ lockout was how well the players would hold up despite not really playing football.

The jury is not completely in on this one, but early indications are that “not very well” might be the definitive answer.

Players are falling like flies all around National Football League training camps. From pulled muscles to Achilles’ tendon injuries, from bone bruises to total fractures, it looks as though injuries will play a big part in how well a team performs this season.

That has been the case down through the years as teams with the fewest injuries usually have a better shot at appearing in the postseason. This season, however, will be different.

Without the benefit of Organized Team Activities (OTA) and minicamps, all NFL teams reported cold to training camps this season. The last meaningful football they played was last winter.

Never mind the so-called organized get-togethers players on several teams had while the owners and players thrashed out their labor differences. Camp Colt for the Browns, for example, might have been good for camaraderie. But it was not nearly the same as practicing with coaches.

Absent was the kind of discipline required to bring out the players’ best attributes and correct their worst. It’s difficult to accomplish anything when dealing with those on the same peer level.

Communications between the clubs and players were cut off by the lockout. Players need guidance. That’s how they’re taught to function. None came. That aspect of their professional life was chopped off.

In the past when players reported to training camp, everyone was in shape. Everyone knew what needed to be done. That’s not going to happen this season except, perhaps, for those teams that made the fewest personnel moves.

The lockout will hurt the Browns more than most teams this season. They picked the wrong year to change the offense and defense. That will come back to bite them in the hind flanks.

Fans are excited about the new direction the team has chosen to travel. And they should be after two miserable seasons of Eric Mangini football.

It’s exciting to know the offense will be more wide open than button down. Pat Shurmur’s offense promises to be of the pass-first variety with the running game complementing it.

It’ll also be more exciting watching the Browns operate out of the 4-3 look on defense after all those seasons of defensive futility with the 3-4 scheme. Putting constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks should be something fans will happily get used to seeing on a weekly basis.

But because the Browns are just learning how to operate with different philosophies on both sides of the ball, it’s unreasonable to expect instant success. That’s just going to happen.

Therefore, it would be just as unreasonable to expect Shurmur to be a rousing success right out of the box. That’s not going to happen, either.

However, it is reasonable to expect the growth process to be steady, if not spectacular. The ultimate litmus test will be finding out whether the team that finished the 2011 season is better than the one that started it.

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