In the last few years there has been a disturbing trend in the first three weeks of NFL training camps. Major injuries to key players occur which will deprive them of part, or all of the upcoming season. Houston's key running back Arian Foster is undergoing groin surgery. Redskin wide receiver DeSean Jackson suffered a separated shoulder in practice. Viking linebacker, Anthony Barr is recuperating from a leg injury. These injuries will dramatically alter the prospect of a team being competitive. The salary cap necessitates backup players with far less experience and talent than the starter, so the drop off is impactful. Why are there so many early training camp injuries?
The whole nature of training camps has changed in the last 10 years. Historically, NFL players took long vacations in the offseason. Many players had diets which caused them to gain weight and become "out of shape". Training camps were held in isolated venues with blistering heat. Players used training camp to get themselves back in shape. This has all changed. Most training camps are held in-town at the franchise's year-round facility. The exponential explosion in salaries in the NFL, heightened competition for roster spots, and offseason workout programs have resulted in players working hard in the offseason to stay in shape. Many go to specialized training programs conducted by personal trainers around the country. Nutrition and training have benefited from breakthroughs in science and medicine. Today's player walks into training camp in the best shape of his life.
Contemporary NFL players are faster, stronger and better conditioned than ever before. There is a critical difference between being "in shape" and being "in football shape". They compete in a contact sport. Concussion fears have resulted in a limitation on the amount of off-season hitting. These rules were necessitated by the spectre of concussion damage, but they too have unintended consequences. Most players have not had any physical contact since the end of the last season. It takes some time for a body to become acclimated to being stressed by contact. Players describe the collisions with multiple bodies flying around a football field as akin to a traffic accident.
When bigger, stronger, faster athletes, who have not had contact for seven months start to collide on football fields, injuries will occur. Without a solution in sight, this yearly carnage will continue to ensue.