Sitting here today, I don't have to ask if people are criticizing Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin for the serious ankle injury suffered by center Maurkice Pouncey in a 24-19 victory over Green Bay in the team's third preseason game on Sunday.
I don't have to ask that question because this criticism was one of the first things I read on my facebook page this morning, complete with this quote: "This is an example of how bad Tomlin is!!!!" Now I know at least one person out there is blaming Tomlin for the injury.
Pouncey was injured late in the first quarter, when Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix rolled up on the back of his ankle near the end of a short running play by Le'Veon Bell. The post-game prognosis by Tomlin was not good, as Pouncey is expected to have surgery to repair the ankle and could miss a significant amount of time.
I have seen no exact quotes to verify this, but it's a safe bet to say at least one Packers fan out there is pretty angry at head coach Mike McCarthy in the aftermath of the likely ACL tear suffered by star receiver Jordy Nelson early in the first quarter on what was a simple short pass and catch from quarterback Aaron Rodgers in-which the receiver fell to the grass of Heinz Field while trying to turn and run. Obviously, in-terms of degrees of devastating injuries suffered in the preseason, the Steelers came out slightly ahead--especially if Pouncey is back before the kids say "Trick or Treat" in late October.
Preseason football is a necessary evil, and usually the best news to come out of any August affair is simply a clean bill of health. Unfortunately for the Steelers, they've played three preseason games and suffered two injuries that could significantly hinder 2015.
But what can be done about it?
For those critical of Tomlin for the ACL tear suffered by kicker Shaun Suisham two weeks ago in the Hall of Fame Game against the Vikings--mainly because he didn't invite an extra kicker to training camp this summer--you're speaking in "absolutes," automatically assuming this anonymous "extra leg" would have been in for that second half kickoff that led to the injury.
As for the injury to Pouncey, it occurred on the second offensive series of Pittsburgh's third preseason game. Yes, it's critical that key players stay healthy, but they also need work. There's only so much you can do in training camp these days, with the restrictions on practicea and even the duration of the camps themselves. Pouncey didn't even dress for the Hall of Fame Game; he played in one series last week in the loss to the Jaguars; and, it's safe to assume he would have been done for the day after the conclusion of that fateful second drive on Sunday. That's three series for a Pro Bowl center in three weeks.
What more can you expect from your head coach in-terms of protecting his key players while at the same time trying to get them ready for the regular season? A head coach's hands are tied in a lot of ways. The players don't want to get beat up anymore with brutal training camps that were popular in the days of Chuck Noll and featured events like legendary the Oklahoma Drills. Players are also adamantly against an 18-game regular-season that would (theoretically at least) reduce exhibition football to two games. In the absence of an 18-game season, owners obviously still want four preseason games as a means to generate more revenue.
In most cases, a coach and his players just have to do their best to get through training camp and the preseason without suffering anything catastrophic. Of course, when you really think about it, is a devastating injury any better when it happens in Week 1 of the regular season, as was the case two years ago, when Pouncey suffered a torn ACL in the first quarter against the Titans?
Injuries can happen at any moment. Pouncey could have had his ankle rolled up on at training camp. Nelson could have made the same kind of catch and pivot during OTAs and been lost for the year.
As long as preseason football is around in some form, there is no correct way to go about protecting NFL players. The beginning of most NFL regular seasons are already compromised a little bit and filled with sloppy football, thanks mostly to the way star players are protected in July and August.
There is nothing anyone can do about preseason football, other than hope that another NFL star doesn't suffer a significant injury before September 10--and even if that happens again, it still won't be anyone's fault.