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.
Harbaugh should think about the positions he's put his key players in. Culliver injured his knee on a special teams drill. Is it wise to have a vital cornerback play special teams?
Willis broke his hand in a blitzing drill. What did Willis have to gain from participating in such a violent drill?
Crabtree tore his Achilles making a simple cut in a closed practice. Why was Crabtree practicing at all given his extensive injury history? He's only made it through one training camp injury-free, and that was last year.
Harbaugh needs to adapt to peak-conditioned professional athletes. They're a different species than the players he coached at Stanford. He needs to lighten up.
"We're looking at larger players who are buffed up to the max and are just as fast as the little guys and when they cut, momentum tears things," said Gary Furness, a Santa Rosa physician for the California State Athletic Commission. "It's the laws of physics."