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Medical Maladies: An Evaluation Of The Colts Medical Staff

I loved EA Sports Madden.

Of course the game was fun, but having a chance to play GM was intoxicating. It was a virtual opportunity to put my stamp on the team and shape its future. Hours were dedicated to evaluating talent before the draft (like my predecessor I stuck with taking the best player available). Contract disputes were  tough but fair. Training camp consisted of arduous two-a-days always in full pads. I even dedicated the resources to making sure the public  got the full fan experience with the luxurious cup holders and the extra 10 inch legroom. Nerdy I know. Needless to say, I took my role very seriously.

I did however, overlook a feature I thought tedious and trivial: the hiring and evaluating of the medical training staff.

In Madden, the training staff didn't matter. Injuries didn't really affect the game. As Colts fans, we know all too well the that the reality is far different. 

Injuries have nearly derailed a season filled with promise and the hopeful return of Bob Sanders and Anthony Gonzalez. Of course injuries affect every team, but doesn't it always seem the Colts are "hit by a rash of injuries," "forced to overcome mounting injuries," or "decimated again by injuries?"

Just Google 'Colts injuries.' 35 straight pages of injury news pop-up, which seems about the same length as the actual Colts injury report. 

Sometimes injuries are unlucky flukes. A player falls awkwardly on top of a player, a player has his knee violently or unnaturally jerked or a defender leads with his helmet causing a concussion. These things happen - its football and football is a violent sport. At the same time, fans scream that players aren't 'tough' or are 'injury prone.'

But what does that actually mean? Clearly all players in the NFL are 'tough' and healthy enough to have made it through 8 years playing in high school and college. Such red-flags usually scare away teams and keep these type of players out of football. Not to say some players don't have longer medical histories but most players enter the league with a relatively clean slate or with thorough medical clearances. 

So how do players like Anthony Gonzalez and Bob Sanders develop this rap? It could be they are unlucky or that their bodies can't handle the beating. For Bob Sanders, it could even be a style of play. Still I'm guessing Ray Lewis hits pretty hard. Troy Polamalu too. So how else could the injuries could be explained? 

The medical staffs.

Jon Torine has been with the Colts for 13 seasons as the strength and conditioning coach. I am sure is a wonderful guy who knows sports therapy and exercise science. A quick glance at his bio page and it certainly sounds like it.


But recently a lot of red flags are popping up. Lets start with a big one that has surfaced on this blog over the past 48 hours: the decision to cut Ryan Lilja. Last spring the Colts jettisoned Lilja because he apparently failed a physical. A strong warning to most teams. Yet Kansas City inked him to a 3 year 7.5 million dollar deal weeks later. That the Chiefs would invest millions of dollars in a player who the Colts cut because he was "too hurt" even though he was under contract, sounds suspicious. It is also a strong indicator that the Chiefs didn't buy into the Colts' prognosis. As it turns out, the Chiefs medical staff was right. Lilja is having a pro-bowl caliber season.


Another huge red flag, and I think an even more serious objection, was how Collie's concussion was handled. Clearly Collie was not ready to play as after two hits he was woozy. I am sure Collie begged and pleaded to come back for the showdown with New England, but that shouldn't matter. The first and foremost responsibility of any training staff is to protect the players' long term health. Not only did allowing Collie to play risk his health, but it also put the team in jeopardy of losing one of their best players for a longer period of time. Had the training staff been cautious and prudent Collie would have been in uniform Sunday night against the Chargers.


Lastly, its important to examine a couple of the injuries. Now, I am not a doctor and know little about medicine, but several of the injuries seem bizarre. Take Bob Sanders for example. Week 1 during Houston, he tore his bicep muscle on what seemed like an ordinary fall. He didn't deliver a big hit nor did his bicep look as if it had been twisted in any way.  Maybe it was a freak accident. Or, could it have been something to do with his preparation and work-out routine?


Same applies to Anthony Gonzalez. The first round pick out of Indy arrived in great shape. In fact he took such care of his body that he slept in a special low-oxygen tent in order to build stronger lung capacity. So when he sprained his ankle away away from the play or any contact, it leaves doubt. Was he just unlucky and step funny or could Gonzalez and the training staff have done more to make his extremities stronger? 


The Colts have a history of giving their players extra off season rest and avoiding particularly physical OTA's and training camps. The reason has always been to avoid injuries.


This clearly isn't working. 


The problems could rest on the players. Sure. But they could also be the result of the medical staff. Just like how players must share some of the blame when coaches get fired, players also must take responsibility for their health and fitness. But, ultimately the coaches and staff are responsible for preparing the players as best as possible.


It is time for the training staff to explore new measures or for the Colts to explore new options at training staff because unlike Madden, a training staff can make a significant difference.