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Steelers Pre-Season Injuries not Tomlin’s fault

Twenty-one days into the Steelers’ 2013 pre-season and Le’Veon Bell and Isaac Redman join eleven other Steelers to form a baker’s dozen (so far) of injured players, but don’t blame the new CBA or Tomlin and the increased physicality of this year’s camp.

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Time is short, and the number is rising.  Nik Embernate, Jason Worilds, Matt Spaeth, Justin Cheadle, Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, Plaxico Burress, Nicholas Williams, Terry Hawthorne, Stevenson Sylvester, DeMarcus Van Dyke all have suffered an injury of one sort or another this pre-season, and now Le'Veon Bell and Isaac Redman join the list.  Are the Steelers the perennial food for the injury bug to feast upon, or as painful as it seems, is this just par for the course?

The NFL's own numbers show the pre-season to be the most hazardous period in an NFL season. According to Edgeworth Economics (in draft form as of September 2010) or as reported in Esquire Magazine in 2011, using data compiled covering six seasons (2004-2009) from the NFL's Injury Surveillance System (NFLISS) which is an online website where teams go to enter injury information, 40.8 percent of all injuries occur during the pre-season. This figure is comprised of injuries occurring during training camp (16.1 percent of annual total) and pre-season games (24.7 percent of annual total).  During the pre-season games period itself, 13.2 percent of the injuries occurred during the actual games while 11.4 percent occurred during practices or scrimmages.  This equates to 2.86 injuries per game per team during the pre-season, or a 3.6 percent chance of injury per player per game, based on an 80-man roster.

The balance of the injuries occurred during the regular season (57.9 percent) and post season (1.3 percent).  On the face of it, there are more injuries during the regular season, but it is the rate of injuries per day that gives the pre-season the distinction of being the most hazardous period in an NFL season.

In other words, during the 34 days of the pre-season (camp plus four games) over the six year period studied, the data shows that there were on average 6.2 injuries per team per day as compared to 2.7 injuries per team per day during the 112 days of the regular season.

One final aspect of the data that is interesting is the breakdown of occurrence of "Major" injuries over the entire NFL season, although the sources reviewed don't define the difference between Minor, Moderate and Major injuries.

Training camp had the second lowest share of all "Major" injuries reported for the period, at 18.3 percent; only the pre-season game practice/scrimmage period had a lower rate of occurrence (13.6 percent).  Pre-season games (21.4 percent) and both regular season practices and games (22.7 percent and 23.2 percent respectively) were comparable, but all fell far short of the rate of "Major" injuries incurred during post-season  practices and games (30 percent and 31.9 percent respectively).  How much of the increase in the number of major injuries, as compared to other types of injuries, during the post-season can be attributed towards body fatigue is most likely an area of study the NFLPA is actively engaged in as it studies the League's often raised desire to extend the regular season.

In light of this information, it is no wonder the NFLPA fought so hard to make changes to how training camps are conducted in the new CBA, and thus our inclination to lay blame for such injuries on the "softening" of training camp rules should be re-examined in fairness to the players.

As well, Tomlin's decision to increase the frequency of live, full contact drills within the confines of the new CBA rules should not be blamed for the rash of injuries the Steelers are experiencing.  If anything, the Steelers' F.O. message to the players that the team will be holding them to higher expectations in terms of the condition they're in when they report to camp should go further in minimizing the more mundane injuries that are conditioning related than any other measure the team could take.

(Author's note: There is scant information available for free to the public to analyze these findings, and subsequent reports done by Edgeworth Economics either fail to break down injury information in the same way as the 2010 draft, or utilize data collected from different sources.  For example, Edgeworth's 2011 findings, as reported again by Esquire Magazine, used data collected by Football Outsiders (which uses the data for its Adjusted Games Lost or AGL calculations) and expanded the years covered (from 2002 to 2009) but only on the regular seasonMore on the AGL data to follow.)

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