There is a reason why the phrase “on paper” is used so commonly in sports: not only does a well constructed team sometimes under or over perform, but often unforeseeable events can wreak havoc on the best laid plans.
With the beginning of training camp for NFL teams across the country this week, so has the onslaught of training camp injuries that plague each and every team. Additionally, this rash of personnel complications is only compounded upon by the further analysis of past injuries to determine whether players should suit up as camps begin — with Percy Harvin’s labrum tear perhaps the most prominent example. Seattle will surely decide whether Harvin will have season-ending surgery prior to letting the recently acquired speedster dress for camp.
Another west coast team received bad news on the very first day of training camp, as Chargers linebacker Jonas Mouton (2011 2nd-round pick) tore his right anterior cruciate ligament and will end his third professional season with only five snaps played after also missing the entirety of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury. Mouton’s injury is especially worrying for the Bolts due to a torn left ACL suffered by 2012 first-rounder Melvin Ingram during organized team activities back in May. San Diego’s defense will have to scramble to make up for the lack of depth following the loss of both Mouton and Ingram.
Arizona also received very bad news this week in the form of the premature retirement of sixth-round pick wide receiver Ryan Swope due to concerns around multiple concussions during his collegiate career. Swope, a Texas A&M alumnus, amazed scouts with under 4.40 times on the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. The Cardinals drafted Swope with the knowledge he had suffered four documented concussions during his time as an Aggie, and a fifth concussion during OTAs convinced Swope thathe was better off taking a break for the time being. Arizona still holds the rights to Swope should he make the decision to return in the future.
Meanwhile over on the east coast the Patriots are struggling to find a replacement for last year’s dominant duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez now that the former is likely to miss some time to start the season and legal issues have led to the release of the latter. Now, it seems that former Giants tight end Jake Ballard may be less of a complement for New England’s offense because of a very slow recovery from reconstructive and microfracture surgeries that kept Ballard out for the whole of the 2012 season. Undrafted rookie Zach Sudfield could very well end up as the starting tight end come week 01 against Buffalo should Gronkowski’s recovery from multiple back surgeries delay his start of the season.
Baltimore joins New England as a team in search of tight end help following injury to Dennis Pitta, whose breakout season in 2012 (61 receptions, 669 yards and 7 touchdowns) played a big part in Baltimore’s championship run. Originally the dislocated hip that will likely land Pitta on the injured reserve was thought to be a more minor injury, but recent reports have Pitta’s chances of playing this season at very slim to none. Baltimore headed into camp with more of a two tight end system after the trade of Anquan Boldin in the offseason, with Pitta and Ed Dickson the main benefactors of the offensive adjustments. However, Pitta’s loss will make Baltimore rethink their offensive scheme as Dickson’s receiving abilities are remarkably inferior to those of Pitta and with the lack of receivers on the roster the Ravens may consider relying on a rushing attack consisting of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.
Offensive issues have escalated elsewhere in the east, as new Eagles coach Chip Kelly must now worry about what receiver to pair with DeSean Jackson in addition to what quarterback is going to lead the offense. Philadelphia will have to scramble to replace the contributions of Jeremy Maclin after the fifth-year wideout tore his right ACL on Saturday. Although the likeliest replacement on the roster is fourth year on-and-off contributor Riley Cooper, although Kelly could look towards a veteran the likes of Brandon Lloyd or Laurent Robinson as a replacement as a possession receiver opposite the playmaking Jackson.
Both the Jets and Redskins will also be looking for help on special teams with injuries to cornerback Aaron Berry (New York) and Keenan Robinson (Washington). Berry’s tenure in Detroit was derailed by off-the-field issues that led to his release in 2012 following two seasons as depth in the Lions’ backfield. With the departure of Darrelle Revis via trade, Berry was one prospect for increased playing time and was thought to be a threat to Kyle Wilson’s projected starting spot opposite Antonio Cromartie. For Washington, Robinson did very little after a fourth-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft due to a torn right pectoral muscle in November. Robinson was expected to compete for playing time with Lorenzo Alexander signing elsewhere in free-agency, but a torn left pectoral means he’ll miss the entirety of the 2013 season.
Expect injuries only to increase as camps continue and players are put through more contact drills. Injuries are a sad reality in the NFL, and one part of succeeding as a team is recognizing and utilizing individual players who can most make up for the losses suffered during the grueling seven month season.