Yesterday, the Colts held their sixth practice of training camp. Only one of the practices has been in full pads. Despite that, the Colts yesterday lost their third significant contributor for the season. Fili Moala was injured in offseason work, and then Vick Ballard tore his Achilles in day two of practice. Donald Thomas yesterday suffered a torn quad, a re-tear of the same injury he had last year.
Furthermore, fullback Stanley Havili (PUP), cornerback Vontae Davis, and safety LaRon Landry have yet to practice at all in training camp, still recovering from injuries. In the case of both Davis and Landry, they missed mandatory minicamp back in mid-June with these injuries, and they're still recovering. Other players such as Trent Richardson, Jack Mewhort, Josh McNary, Loucheiz Purifoy, Qua Cox, Dwayne Allen, and I'm sure others that I'm missing have missed practice time due to injuries. For most of these injuries, including the ones to Davis and Landry, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano has called it a "soft tissue injury" and that the players are held out for "precautionary" reasons.
I heard the Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell talking on the radio the other day about the "soft tissue" designation, and Mike made the suggestion that in training camp, that doesn't help the players out at all. While in the regular season it's different because of competitive advantage and things like that, in training camp it doesn't do any good to hide injuries, and in fact it often ends up making the player look bad. And I think Mike has a point - when Pagano says the player has a "soft tissue injury," that leaves the fans and media without an idea of what the injury is, and it allows fans to think that the player isn't really hurt that badly but is missing practice anyway. The example that immediately comes to my mind is with LaRon Landry, who fans are already negative about in regards to injuries. I don't think Pagano calling his injury a "soft tissue" injury does Landry any good at all. So why not just say what the injury is?
"I've made a lot of calls over the last couple days but finally got to the right person in the right place, willing to discuss it on a Colts off-day. The Colts' designations are essentially a challenge. Maybe it's Chuck Pagano, maybe it's Ryan Grigson, but the edict came from on high. It's about pressure...
"So this is about public pressure and I don't get that at all. Making Trent Richardson or Laron Landry look bad to the fans doesn't help anyone, but I get the sense that the Colts think they can get players off the sidelines and back on the field by ... shaming them?
"I don't get this. I don't think it will work. I think it will backfire. But I don't think the Colts think that at all."
There's no one I trust more about sports injuries than Will, which makes this article even more intriguing - Carroll is taking Chappell's suggestion that it doesn't make the players look good and saying that perhaps that's the Colts plan all along. To pressure players to get back on the practice field. In light of what Carroll wrote Tuesday, Chuck Pagano's comments in his press conference Wednesday morning look much more interesting:
"We want them back, like we've talked. We need them to get out there, they need to get out there. They need to start practicing. They're doing a great job with the rehab, the trainers are pushing them. They're very, very close. Again, they need to start playing football. They need to get their helmets on, their shoulder pads on, and the full pads on, thigh pads, knee pads. And they need to get in the huddle. They need to start communicating with their teammates and like I said, playing football. So as soon as we can get them back, we're going to make the right decision when that is and certainly they have to start playing."
At the same time, there are those who think that Chuck Pagano is being extra cautious with holding players out because of the injuries that devastated the team last year. The Colts have only gone full-pads one time so far this camp, and it has been a common theme that the Colts will hold a player out of practice for precautionary reasons. I don't believe that's just lip-service - I believe that the Colts truly are being very cautious with players who have even the slightest of injuries. Pagano certainly has reason for taking it easier in practice and being cautious with injuries - in the offseason the Colts did an extensive study on injuries, trying to find a common theme. Pagano talked about it on Monday:
"I think it would be foolish on our part not to be proactive like we were in the offseason and do a lot of research. Our trainers, our strength staff, we went to work and we looked at the last two seasons. We looked at 2012, the guys that we placed on IR. We looked at all the guys last year, tried to find common threads, common themes and do everything that we can within our power, again, be proactive so that certainly we don't place 17 guys on IR again."
He defended his thinking regarding practicing only in shells often by saying that they get the same amount of work in regardless.
I don't think there's anybody who would blame Chuck Pagano for being extra-cautious this year. After all, this was a team that, entering their week eight bye week, was 5-2 with wins over the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and Denver Broncos. They were talking Super Bowl. But the injuries mounted, and the Colts couldn't overcome them, with the tipping point being the injury to Reggie Wayne in week seven, when he tore his ACL. But way before that, there was the injury to the team's starting tight end Dwayne Allen in week one. Out for the year. There was the injury to the team's starting running back Vick Ballard after week one. Out for the year. There was the injury to the team's starting left guard Donald Thomas in week two. Out for the year. There was the injury to the team's new starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw in week three. Out for the year. There was the injury to the team's starting wide receiver Reggie Wayne in week seven. Out for the year. Teams don't just overcome injuries like that. They just don't. And considering that the Colts have routinely been one of the most injured teams in the league, it's no surprise that Pagano is extra cautious this year with injuries.
Fans always want someone to blame. This is why some players can turn into scapegoats, or why some coaches are run out of town. To fans, the blame always has to lie with someone. As such, you'll hear a number of fans complain about the training staff in the coming days, as they're the popular ones to blame for the injury problems year in and year out. Maybe there's something there. Maybe there's not. But when it comes to guys like Vick Ballard and Donald Thomas, even Pagano's extra caution didn't help. They were both injured in situations where you wouldn't expect a guy to get injured in the least, and now they're lost for the season. Despite Pagano's best efforts, the Colts are already losing the injury battle.
Is he trying to pressure guys back, or is he being so cautious that he's keeping guys out longer? I think it depends on the situation. I think it's quite likely that Pagano is trying to pressure some of these guys back (I think of guys like LaRon Landry and Vontae Davis, though that's just me), but I also know that there are some of the injured players who would love to be out there but who Pagano is erring on the side of caution with (the example with Trent Richardson missing quite a few practices). But one thing has been clear to me after watching these practices, watching how guys are missing practice, watching how the guys coming back from injury are on a limited basis in practice, and things like that: Chuck Pagano is doing everything he can to avoid an injury-plagued season like he did last year. The defensive-minded head coach is all about physicality, and he's given some of that up in an effort to keep players healthy. He's gone full-pads only once. He's held guys out of practice for precautionary reasons. He's kept guys - even Vick Ballard and Donald Thomas - on a limited practice schedule as they ease back into it. He's trying. And the injuries just keep piling up.
To be honest, I think Pagano is getting desperate - and not in a bad way. I think he's desperate to try and find ways for his players to stay healthy, and he hasn't yet. And this brings us to one of the toughest realities of football and sports in general: injuries happen. We've seen in Colts camp Pagano try to limit injuries and still two major contributors go down with season-ending injuries in the first six practices.
It sucks. You always hate to see a guy get hurt, especially after he worked so hard to get back from a previous injury. But that's football. Maybe there's a reason behind all of these injuries for the Colts, but I don't know it and I'm not about to delve into looking at that right now. Injuries happen. Chuck Pagano is trying his best to prevent them, but injuries happen.
It just happens to the Colts quite a bit.