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Grant Cohn: NFL teams must rethink regimens for players' safety

  • Buffalo Bills' Stevie Johnson (13) is helped off the field during an NFL football training camp at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford N.Y., Friday, Aug. 2, 2013. The Bills' top receiver suffered a hamstring injury during practice. (AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Mark Mulville) TV OUT; MAGS OUT. SALAMANCA PRESS OUT. TONAWANDA NEWS OUT.

Have you noticed how many NFL players already have torn ACLs or Achilles' tendons this offseason?

We're not even two weeks into training camp, and already nine NFL players have torn ACLs and three have ruptured Achilles, and most of these injuries involved no contact. So far, 14 49ers have injured themselves and they haven't played a single preseason game.

What's the deal? Are the players spontaneously combusting?

The NFL wants to prevent these season-ending injuries, so they rolled back practice hours in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. But since 2009, injuries that sideline a player for eight days or more have increased 37 percent, according to an Edgeworth Economics study. How can that be?

First, let's examine the 49ers and then the NFL.

"The 49ers' season was much longer than everybody else's in the league," said a former NFL trainer who requested anonymity. "That's the first thing you've got to look at."

The 49ers played 19 games last season. The season before, they played 18. Of the 14 49ers who have injured themselves this offseason, six of them played in all or almost all of those 37 games – Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Jonathan Goodwin, Chris Culliver and Michael Crabtree.

"The 49ers are in big trouble right now," said the former NFL trainer. "The hay already is in the barn. Depending on what happens this year, they may need to look at their offseason and training camp and do some things differently next year. For example, I know one club – and the man who was coaching this team no longer is there – but it was a team that normally played deep into the playoffs, and I know for a fact they would give their older veterans more days off from practice during the regular season and in training camp. He recognized his team had played deep into the playoffs and his players might not be totally recovered going into the next season."

Jim Harbaugh doesn't do this. He runs his training camp like a boot camp. He wants effort, competition and participation across the board. He treats his millionaire veterans like unproven collegiate athletes. This approach worked brilliantly in 2011 when Harbaugh turned an under-achieving team into a 13-3 power house.

But this offseason, Harbaugh's coaching style backfired. He already lost his No.1 receiver and No.3 cornerback, Crabtree and Culliver. To replace Crabtree, Harbaugh set up an open competition, hoping a receiver would step up. None has, but five have injured themselves – Kyle Williams, A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton, Kassim Osgood and Brandon Carswell.


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