It seems that every year people are panicking about the extent and severity of injuries in the NFL, even though they're a fact of life in not only this sport, but any athletic endeavor. That same discussion was rekindled this month when third overall pick Dante Fowler went down in Jaguars rookie minicamp.
Having a full-speed minicamp featuring 11-on-11 work right after the draft may not be the smartest thing in the world. Rookies come off months of going through the draft circuit to jumping into camp completely unprepared for full-speed work. But the Bucs don't ask their rookies to do that, as the Tampa Bay Times points out today.
"It's tough to go right into what is Phase III workouts for us, and guys are trying to make the team in one weekend," coach Lovie Smith said. "I think injuries are part of our game, too. I've watched it briefly. I saw the play. I notice things like that happen and you try to guard against them as much as possible. We try not to do a lot of team work. Seven-on-seven is about the most we'll do, not get as many bodies in there. But eventually, you'll get 11-on-11 and you just hope major injuries don't happen."
One of the players struggling transition last year was Mike Evans, who went on to have a stellar rookie season despite a hamstring injury in rookie minicamp.
"This time last year I was coming off a lot of visits," Evans said earlier this month. "I didn't work out much and it caused me to strain my hamstring the first day of (offseason team activites). I wasn't training or anything like that. I wasn't in shape. Now, I'm in shape and I'm ready to go."
The Bucs didn't start this new approach with Lovie Smith: Mark Dominik actually introduced it back in 2010 -- after someone had suffered a catastrophic and eventually career-ending injury. Via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe:
Former Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik relayed a story last week on ESPN that in 2010, after defensive tackle Brian Price "ripped his hamstring off the bone" during rookie minicamp, the Bucs decided to hold all of their drafted rookies out of 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills for future rookie minicamps and let only the undrafted free agents and tryout players participate.
NFL teams will never be able to completely rule out these injuries. But overloading rookies with work immediately after the draft is a good way to make sure you'll get a few too many injuries. And for the past years, the Bucs have had very few of these catastrophic injuries to rookies.