Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller became the latest NFL player to suffer a season ending ACL tear this preseason when Texans safety D.J. Swearinger took a low angle in tackling the tight end during a preseason game. This preseason has seemed especially brutal in terms of the number of players who have suffered the devastating knee injury, seemingly every day another star is lost for the season because of a torn ACL.
But what exactly is to blame for the uptick in the number of torn ACLs? Are players coming into training camp out of shape, thus leaving themselves more susceptible to injury? Or are coaches pushing their athletes too far given the win-now attitude of all 32 NFL franchises and their fan base?
Those are common beliefs, however a vast majority of football players keep themselves in world-class shape throughout the offseason and come into training camp ready to go. Coaches throughout the league have also been weeding out contact practices for some time, reducing the risk of players going down while gearing up for the season.
Dr. David Chao debunked the myth that players being out of shape is to blame for the injury increase in an interview with Huff Post. “It could be, but I don’t think so. I think players today come to camp in shape. Most know they have conditioning tests on day one and weight to make. Many performance bonuses are associated with these benchmarks as well as potential roster spots. Players know this so I don’t believe they come into camp unprepared.”
The answer may be that coaches and players are not to blame, rather the league itself. Policy in the NFL has shifted in recent years in efforts to protect players heads at all costs. No longerJam are players allowed to aim high when tackling an opponent, resulting in a trend of diving at the knees of ball-carriers. If they don’t, the fines will pile up, just ask James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Because of the new concussion rules put in place by NFL officials, players like Dustin Keller are left vulnerable to season ending ACL tears. Football is a violent game, injuries will always be a risk no matter what. The NFL has picked its poison, it would rather see ACL tears than concussions.
D.J. Swearinger abruptly ended Keller’s season in a game that meant nothing. It doesn’t seem fair for the tight ends year to end before it begins. Swearinger feels bad about hurting an opponent as badly as he did, and has apologized multiple times for the result of his hit. He gave his best wishes to Keller via Twitter, saying “everybody pray 4 justin keller….i pray you have a speedy recovery bro…and kill it when you get back…. DEFINITELY wasnt intentional..”
However he offered perhaps the best insight into the NFL ACL problem in his explanation. In an interview with Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post, he said that “I was making a hit playing football. In this league, you’ve got to go low. If you go high, you’re going to get a fine. I’m sorry that happened. I would think you’d rather have more concussions than leg injuries. Leg injury, you can’t come back from that. A concussion, you be back in a couple of weeks.”
Dustin Keller himself appears not to be holding any hard feelings towards Swearinger in his comments since being placed on Injured Reserve by the Dolphins. Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post quoted him as saying “I want everyone to know that as disappointing as this is I don’t want anybody feeling sorry for me,” Keller said in an email to NFL.com. “I promise I’m going to come back stronger, faster and be a better player than before. I’d like to thank all my family, friends and teammates for their prayers and support.”
The NFL is doing what it can to prevent the long term effects that come with head injuries, however as of now not much has been done to protect the legs of players. Legs are an essential part of football, representing the meal ticket of many players. Although the league has mandated that knee and thigh pads be worn, players critical of the policy claim that the pads have a limited effectiveness at preventing devastating injuries.
The Miami Dolphins have lost Dustin Keller for the season, like so many other teams have lost key players. The problem is not going to go away, more and more players continue to fall by the wayside as defensive players are forced to go low to avoid fines.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieGille
Senior Sports Editor
The Guardian Express