KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The annual national discussion rages entering the third week of preseason action with high-profile injuries taking its toll around the NFL.
And the list of players grows.
Former Kansas State and current Green Bay Packers Jordy Nelson suffered a season-ending ACL injury; Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncy sustained a broken ankle; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin suffered an ACL injury in practice; Washington tight end Niles Paul suffered a fractured ankle; and the New York Giants lost safeties Bennett Jackson (ACL) and rookie fifth-round pick Mykkele Thompson (Achilles); among others.
So, is the preseason too long, too short or just right for teams to prepare for the regular season?
Former NFL tight end Luther Broughton, who played two seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2000) for then-coach Andy Reid and two seasons for the Carolina Panthers (1998, 2001), doesn’t buy the debate.
“If the Packers’ fourth wide receiver would’ve got hurt,” Broughton emphatically said in a telephone interview, “we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Broughton points to the very nature of the chosen profession.
“If we have all these injuries in the preseason, it is football,” he said. “They’re going to get hurt.”
There are sides to both arguments as to the importance of preseason, of course, and the Chiefs haven’t been immune to injury in recent weeks.
Projected starting right guard Jeff Allen suffered a knee injury in the preseason opener and hasn’t practiced since, while starting left tackle Eric Fisher didn’t play in the second preseason contest after sustaining a high-ankle sprain in the waning days of training camp.
Injuries dominate the dispute against the format of four exhibition contests and length of training camp.
And certified athletic trainer Jeff Stotts of the St. Vincent Health Systems in Little Rock, Ark., said in a telephone interview he believes limiting exposure during the preseason could curb some of the major injuries.
“I do think reducing any amount of exposure to contact as well as just number of repetitions like in a preseason game is going to help reduce the injury rate,” said Stotts, who holds PES and CES certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. “You can’t take any steps outward to completely prevent injuries other than holding players out.”
The counterpoint, however, surrounds the time head coaches need to assess the roster before settling on the 53-man roster.
“I’m a coach,” Reid said, “so as much evaluation time and teaching time that I can have, I want.”
Stotts ultimately concedes the Chiefs head coach’s point.
“It’s very tough for the NFL when you’re trying to evaluate a guy to hold everybody out,” Stotts said, “and then just say that two or three games is a fair chance to assess the guy.”
Obviously, not every star player in the NFL is a first-round pick.
And the core of a 53-man roster is arguably built with the personnel taken in the middle to late rounds or undrafted free agents.
The Chiefs are a testament to the latter area, as the team had 16 undrafted players on the roster to start the 2014 season.
One of the 16 players included starting defensive end Mike DeVito, who originally entered the NFL in 2007 as undrafted free agent out of Maine with the New York Jets.
DeVito appreciates the value of preseason action, offseason workouts and training camp, pointing out he probably would not be in the league if not for those events when he joined the league.
“I think it was in April and we went home for nine days in the summer,” DeVito said. “OTAs were 12-hour days, you had two practices a day in training camp, six weeks, you had all those reps in the preseason – that was the reason I made the team. If I didn’t have those opportunities, I wouldn’t have made the team. I wasn’t good enough.”
Broughton, who entered the league in 1997 out of Furman as a fifth-round draft pick with the Eagles, agreed.
“My first thought as a fifth-round out of a small college,” Broughton said, “I have no complaints about the length of preseason because I would’ve never made the Eagles team without preseason. I made the team based on practices, not games. I didn’t play much in the preseason when I was in Philadelphia and I got a lot better from Day One of practice until the last day of practice.”
Broughton certainly appreciated developing as a player in the weeks leading to preseason action.
“Andy Reid’s training camps were hell,” Broughton said, “but I don’t know if they were harder than (former Panthers coach) Dom Capers’ camps. I played for Dom; camps were hard as hell. We had two-a-days, it was hot in South Carolina and we got after it. When I got traded to Philly under Andy, it was pretty much the same thing.”
A team’s foundation also affects views, a point made by Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.
Smith is no stranger to personnel turnover on the coaching staff based on an eight-season span that saw him go through four head coaches, seven offensive coordinators and six quarterback coaches with the San Francisco 49ers (2005-12).
Smith, who joined the Chiefs via trade in 2013, indicates stability has a role in shaping opinions on the four exhibition contests.
“I think in a year when you have a lot of history together and you’ve been in the same offense, you’re ready to go sooner,” Smith said. “I‘ve been in years when you love having four games because you were still working out things when you had a lot of turnover. Maybe there was a new system or new guys and you liked having the extra time because it got you ready for the season.”
From preventing injuries to assessing players on the roster, attitudes will vary on the length of preseason and training camp as teams prepare for the regular season.
The key, however, surrounds achieving balance with healthy players during the evaluation process in order to not compromise building a team.
“You’re always balancing with the injuries and things like that and you’ve got to be careful with that stuff,” DeVito said. “But Coach Reid and (head athletic trainer) Rick (Burkholder) and those guys do a great job keeping us healthy and keeping us ready.”