Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Are new practice rules contributing to rash of serious injuries?

Bill Polian

Indianapolis Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian responds to a question during a news conference in Indianapolis, Friday, April 22, 2011. Polian talked about the 2011 NFL Draft that will be held next week in New York. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)


It’s way too early to blame the rash of injuries during 2013 training camp on the new practice rules and limitations implemented in 2011 as part of the new labor deal. But that hasn’t prevented speculation that rules aimed at protecting players are getting them injured.

Former NFL G.M. Bill Polian shared the concerns about which football people are buzzing. After pointing out that the league won’t know whether there’s a new trend until looking at the statistics, Polian offered three reasons for a premature correlation during ESPN’s NFL Insiders program.

First, Polian said, “We don’t do one-on-ones anymore in OTAs. And as a result when you come into camp and put pads on, you’re not used to doing the movements. And that can hurt to some degree.”

(Actually, one-on-ones were prohibited in offseason workouts under the pre-2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. But the rule wasn’t enforced the way it presumably is now.)

Second, Polian mentioned that one of the two daily training-camp practices is merely a walk-through.

“You don’t develop conditioning by walking through,” Polian said. “You don’t need to go full blast, but jogging would be better.”

Third, Polian explained that, because there are fewer practices with live hitting, there’s greater intensity when it’s time to hit.

Polian said these various factors could be adding to player injuries, making it an “unintended consequence” of the new practice rules.

“Every other sport develops players, we’re not developing players,” Polian said.

Though these concerns may be viable as it relates to the ultimate quality of the game, it’s impossible at this point to take a two-week period featuring a cluster of torn ACLs and blame anything other than luck and happenstance. But it’s not surprising that football people will blame the increased injuries on the practice changes.

Football people hated the reduction in practice time that the owners gave the players in order to get the players to take less money. As one football person said at the time, “The players got everything but the right to have someone else play for them.” As a result, football people will be inclined to blame anything and everything on reduced practice time under the new CBA.

At a minimum, the league needs to study at least five full years under the new rules before even attempting to draw conclusions about increased or decreased injuries. In 2011, for example, there was no offseason program due to the lockout, and the new training-camp rules were installed on the fly. Under the reasoning articulated by Polian, there should have been even more torn ACLs that year.

This year, the Steelers are hitting as hard as anyone, with live, to-the-ground tackling in every padded practice. And they’ve had no torn ACLs. (Yet.)

Even if the league decides that changes need to be made, good luck making that happen before 2021. If the NFL tries to swing the pendulum toward more practice time or intensity, the NFLPA will resist. And the NFLPA will seek concessions elsewhere, even if it’s ultimately in the players’ best interests to agree.

That’s one of the realities of collective bargaining. If one side wants something, the other side wants something in return

Besides, has a single player said, “All these injuries are happening because we don’t practice often or hard enough?” Until they do, it’ll be impossible to get the union to agree to any changes without more cash or other benefits to the players.

While the increased injuries are a good topic for discussion and analysis, it’s no surprise that an old-school football guy like Polian would try to connect the dots between less practice and more injuries. We think it’s far more complicated than that, both to identify the problem (including whether there even is a problem) and to come up with a solution the players would accept without saying, “Fine, but give us more money.”