Injuries were running rampant in the NFL last season, with players dropping like flies on both offense and defense all season long. Many analysts point to the shortened training camps, no OTA’s (Organized Team Activity, i.e. mini-camps, organized training session), and players not being able to use the team facilities due to the lock-out.
It’s hard to really determine what contributed to the flurry of injuries, but every week, instead of checking scores around the league, it was enough just to keep up with “who got injured this week”.
I’ve selected some of the major running backs who ended up on injured-reserve or suffered an injury that kept them off the injury for a significant period last season, what they have done to address that injury, how they are progressing, and the outlook for them to return to the field for the 2012 NFL Season.
Adrian Peterson: Minnesota Vikings:
Peterson was having a rough 2011 campaign to begin with, as he had already missed three games earlier in the season with an ankle sprain. All things considered, though, Peterson was still averaging 4.7 yards-per-carry (YPC) on the season, and when disaster struck in Week 16, against the Washington Redskins, Peterson was only 30 yards shy of rushing for 1,000 yards in the season.
On a rushing play up the middle, Peterson was met quickly by Dejon Gomes who, unintentionally, drove his shoulder pad into Peterson’s knee with a gruesome effect.
Peterson was quoted, “I knew initially right when it happened that it was something serious.”
Vikings’ players and Redskins’ players hovered around the fallen Peterson as medical personnel attended to him, then placed him on a cart and wheeled him off the field.
Initial reports were only the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), but the MRI the day after the injury revealed a torn medial cruciate ligament (MCL) also. Concerns that Peterson’s career was in jeopardy were circulating heavily in all the news outlets, as replays of the injury were being played over-and-over.
Peterson had successful surgery on the torn ligaments on December 30th, less than a week after the injury, by renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews.
The best estimates on Peterson’s injury were that he would probably miss the Pre-Season-season, and perhaps a couple of regular season games. Peterson, though, seems to have different plans. Vikings trainer, Eric Sugarman, has been firm that no short cuts will be taken in Peterson's rehab, and Peterson is remaining patient through the process.
In mid-February, there were rumors surfacing that Peterson was going to begin running by the end of February, but head coach Leslie Frazier was quick to dispel those rumblings.
Shortly after that information surfaced, it was reported that Peterson had begun running in water during the first week of March. The Vikings training staff is hoping for Peterson to be ready for the season opener, but everyone involved is very quick to also say that Peterson will not be rushed onto the field, and will not be on the field until he returns to 100%
Jahvid Best: Detroit Lions:
Jahvid Best had a decent season in 2010, and was making serious waves for the upstart Detroit Lions who burst out of the gate to a 5-0 record last season. Best had gained 390 yards on the ground, and another 287 yards receiving, averaging 4.6 YPC, and 10.6 yards per reception (YPR), in only six games.
Best, unfortunately, suffered a concussion during the pre-season, and suffered another during the regular season, as was held out of five games, with concussion-like symptoms, before the Lions elected to shut him down for the season and put him on injured reserve.
Concussions have become the most dangerous injury in the NFL now, as the revelations of older, retired players who suffered undiagnosed concussions, are coming to light, as to their state of mental capabilities, and quality of life. It was extremely smart of the Lions to take great care with their budding star at running back.
Best has been doing well, and recent reports have said his progression is so well, that he is expected to fully participate in the Lions offseason work program, and then mini-camps and OTA’s.
Lions general manager, Martin Mayhew, was quick to say, though, that while the Lions look forward to Best coming back, “it will not be until Best and a doctor, or a team of doctors clear him to play.”
Fred Jackson: Buffalo Bills:
Jackson’s injury was practically the injury that crushed football fandom last season. For every bit of a resurgence the Detroit Lions were having, the Buffalo Bulls were setting the NFL on its side with their early season run, which had them at a 4-2 record going into their Bye Week, including big wins against New England, Oakland, and a punch-in-the-gut blowout win in Week 1 over Kansas City. The Bills eventually lost eight of their last ten games, and ended the season with a 6-10 record, but the early season stud for the Bills was Mr. Fred Jackson.
Before breaking his right fibula, in what was originally thought to just be a calf strain, Jackson had amassed 934 yards rushing, at a ridiculous rate of 5.5 YPC, and six touchdowns. That wasn’t all Jackson was doing, either. Even though his season ended in Week 11, he still ranked third on the Bills in receptions with 39 receptions for 442 yards, at a 11.3 YPR. He didn’t even play all season!
The good news is that Jackson’s injury did not require any surgery, and all signs are pointing to him being fully ready for training camp and all team activities. Other exciting news for Jackson is Buffalo general manager Buddy Nix telling Jackson that the team will be restructuring his contract and reward him with a long time deal.
Matt Forte: Chicago Bears:
Matt Forte had a lot riding on last season, and had that season cut short in Week 13 suffering a sprain of his MCL against the Kansas City Chiefs. Forte, in his last year of his contract, was having a very good year, rolling up 997 yards rushing, with a studly 4.9 YPC average, along with 52 receptions adding another 490 yards! Forte has contributed more than 1400 yards in offense for the Bears in every season he has played for them, so Forte had a lot to prove.
Forte was simply held out of three of the Bears last four games, finally landing on injured reserve on December 27th. Forte, did play in the Pro Bowl, though sparingly. There is no doubt Forte will be back on the field in 2012, as he is looking healthy, but there are a lot of questions now surrounding what time he has left in Chicago. Unable to reach a long-term contract extension, Chicago leveled the “Franchise” tag on Forte, to prevent losing him on the free agency market, and then, in an even more confusing move, signed Michael Bush to add to their backfield.
Where this development leads to, there is no question Forte will be back, and probably in Chicago’s backfield, but what will happen to his stellar production? Stay tuned.
DeMarco Murray: Dallas Cowboys
Murray was a bright spot to the Cowboys backfield with injuries taking their toll on Felix Jones and Tashard Choice (who the Cowboys eventually released mid-season, in part to Murray’s emergence). Unfortunately, the injury plague struck Murray in Week 14, against the rival Giants, as Murray would go down with a fractured ankle, and damage to his ankle ligaments, as he reported on Sirius XM NFL Radio this past February.
Murray was a breakout rookie stud for Dallas, gaining 897 yards in his 13 games, with a fantastic 5.5 YPC average. Murray also showed he was a double-threat with 26 receptions for an additional 183 yards.
Murray’s ankle rehab has been progressing well, and has been doing some running, but has not begun to exert extreme pressure on the ankle with any cuts, or jukes. Jason Garrett, Dallas head coach, is expecting Murray to be back in time for offseason camps in mid-April. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, always in the mix, added that he was extremely pleased with Murray’s play last season. The Cowboys just added beastly Lawrence Vickers to the backfield, at fullback, to pave a smooth road for Murray, and Jones, for this upcoming season.
Jamaal Charles: Kansas City Chiefs:
Ah, Jamaal Charles. Everyone’s sweetheart leading into last season. Fantasy players were taking Charles as the 1st overall pick after his blowout 2010 campaign where he racked up a stunning 1467 yards rushing and a hearty 468 yards receiving. Huge things were expected for both Charles, and the Chiefs in 2012.
The wheels fell of the bus in Week 2, in a disheartening manner. Charles, attempting to stretch a play out for a first down, felt his knee give out, and all the air went out of Kansas City’s season as Charles eventually had to be carted off the field, and a day after the injury, Chiefs head coach (at the time) Todd Haley confirmed Charles suffered a torn ACL, and was placed on injured reserve.
Dr. James Andrews (yes, the same doctor who took care of Adrian Peterson) operated on Charles in early October, to repair his torn ACL.
Charles himself has been active via Twitter keeping people posted that his rehab is moving along very well, and he has started running, and even said he is ready to race people. Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli said in mid-February he was encouraged in what he saw in Charles, and fully expects him to be ready for the regular season. The Chiefs did sign Peyton Hillis in free agency, and there are rumors that Charles will be “eased back in” so to not aggravate his knee. For people in fantasy-land, there is also concern about Hillis taking away carries for Charles within the 5-yard line, but only time will tell. All signs are pointing to Charles and the Chiefs to make a run at the AFC West crown again, like in 2010.
Tim Hightower: Washington Redskins:
Hightower came to Washington from Arizona last season, and according to head coach Mike Shanahan, had won the running back derby in the Redskins backfield against Roy Helu and Ryan Torain. Hightower was relishing the role, and was able to produce decent yardage on the ground to the tune of 321 yards on 84 carries, and added 78 yards on 10 receptions for the season, before tearing his ACL on his left knee in Week 7, against the Carolina Panthers.
Hightower wanted to prove he could be a feature back, but the injury to his knee, along with Helu and Evan Royster having fair seasons in the Redskins crowded backfield will make it tough for Hightower to re-take that number one position. Hightower waited until November 8th to have surgery on his knee, hoping that the swelling would go down, and the injury wouldn’t be as bad as feared.
Since the Redskins had only signed Hightower to a one-year deal to begin with, he is now a free agent, and the Redskins hold the 2nd overall draft pick in the 2012 Draft. Shanahan has said he would like Hightower back, and “he was a good addition to our team”. The Redskins are expected to draft either Andrew Luck, or Robert Griffin III with their draft pick, and Hightower was very good as a blocking back, and could help a rookie quarterback’s transition to the NFL.
Reports are that Hightower’s rehab has been progressing, and is expected to be ready for any teams off-season workouts and training camps. Whether he gets that chance to prove he can be a feature back remains to be seen.
Injuries are always a huge part of the NFL, largely because of the pace, and sheer brutality of the sport. Injuries seemed to be at an all-time high last season, and again, it is speculation that much of that was because of the lock-out shortened training camp and the fact that players were not permitted to have contact with team personnel, such as trainers, strength and conditioning personnel, and the facilities. Plus, let’s face it, professional sports athletes have a tendency to do some pretty stupid things during the offseason, so who is to truly say any professional athlete was preparing himself for the football season, prior to the lock-out ending.
I’m not saying there weren’t players working out, and trying to stay fit, and coincidentally, if you recall the names of a lot of the players who were coordinating training camps or mini-camps of their own, those are players who did NOT end up on an injury report. But then, consider, you have players like Kellen Winslow III, who will wreck his motorcycle during the offseason in 2005, costing him an entire football season, thanks to an injury suffered from that accident. Whiles teams are writing stipulations into contracts now, to prevent players from jeopardizing their worth to the team by doing questionable activities during the offseason, there are no contractual obligations for the players to work out, or remain in game-readiness condition while they are locked-out.
One thing for certain, it will be very interesting to see how the 2012 NFL Season plays out, and the level of injuries this season, compared to last season, since the players will have their usual services and facilities available to them.
Thanks for reading, everyone, and I would love to hear from everyone on their opinion of the plague of injuries from last season, and who, running back or not, was the most disheartening injury you saw?