Rams Looking into Injury Bug
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

To win in the NFL requires a lot of things working simultaneously in concert toward the achievement of the ultimate goal.

Having the right players for the right scheme with the right coaches is a big part of that. But for as much as the big stuff matters, a certain amount of luck is always right at the center of the mix.

Luck can be a bounce of the ball in your direction or a timely penalty flag from the officials. But more than anything, luck comes in the form of a blessing from the Football Gods; those unseen spirits that determine which teams get hit by injury and which teams have relative health.

Rare is the team in the NFL that has success without having the majority of its key players healthy for the majority of the season.

And for the better part of the past three years, the Rams have been ravaged by injuries that have severely lessened the already small margin for error between winning and losing.

That’s why, as this offseason takes flight, one of the top priorities for the team will be to research and find out what it is that could be causing the injuries and to see if there are any way to prevent them other than prayer and positive thinking.

“We are researching it right now,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “We have to look at them all to see how they happen. Some of them are freak, we all know that. We need to study it. You always need to, but I think each case you have to take on an individual basis because it is a physical game, it is a contact game. I don’t know how you prevent one big guy from falling on another guy’s leg. I don’t know how you prevent that, but we will look at it.”

Ideally, the Rams would be able to find a solution for the injury bug that has seemingly made a home in St. Louis since the 2007 season.

The last time the Rams were relatively healthy – injuries do happen all over the league – was in 2006.

That year, the Rams only sent six players to injured reserve with only three of those players regular starters.

It’s no coincidence that the team finished 8-8 that year, the best record the team has posted in the past four years.

Since then, luck has seemed to turn against them.
In 2007, the team placed 12 players on injured reserve including up to six starters and a total of 27 injured players missed 152 games because of injury.

In 2008, another dozen went to injured reserve, four of whom were starters and again 27 players missed time for a total of 156 games missed.

This year, the injury count was actually worse than those two apparently cursed seasons.
By the end of the season, the Rams had put 13 players on injured reserve including up to nine starters if you include long snapper Chris Massey.

And those numbers don’t even include players who missed large chunks of the season with injuries that could have landed on injured reserve such as Jason Smith, Quincy Butler, Leonard Little and Mark Setterstrom.

Even in the season finale, when it appeared the team might make it out of a game without a serious injury, guard Roger Allen III suffered a torn ACL that will require surgery and surely would have landed him on injured reserve had the season continued.

If that wasn’t enough bad luck, the Rams were hit by the flu bug so bad during the season that they actually had to cancel a Thursday practice.

While the soft tissue injuries like hamstring pulls of recent years seemed to be at an all time low, it was the crushing, debilitating ailments that seemed to pile up.

“What we can do?” general manager Billy Devaney said. “That’s going to be a big part of our evaluation. The strength department did a great job. Most of these things were unavoidable. They are joint injuries. We didn’t have many hamstring issues. That wasn’t the case at all. These were all serious types of injuries. When that happens, that is the football Gods looking ill on you, that’s bad breaks or what have you. There have been so many. It’s not just this year. There sure seems to be an inordinate amount of those types of injuries. So we have to go back, do a detailed study and just find out if there is any correlation to all this stuff.”

On the bright side, many of the injured Rams appear to be on course for a return in 2010 with some back even in time for the start of the offseason conditioning program on March 15.

Defensive tackle Adam Carriker (shoulder), receiver Laurent Robinson (foot) and guard Jacob Bell (hamstring/thumb) anticipate being back in time for the start of that program.

Guard Mark Setterstrom, who has suffered a season-ending injury in each of the past three seasons, should also be OK sometime this summer and could be ready for organized team activities in the early summer.

Some players are already working out and feeling good such as receiver Brooks Foster.

If nothing else, the attrition suffered in 2009 provided some youngsters more opportunities in games that should serve them well in the future.
“I think the biggest thing is you want to have solid backups at every position,” Bell said. “Late in the season, you look around the league and every team has injuries. It comes up to those guys to come in and perform well. There’s really no margin for error for those guys.”

There’s no doubt that many of the best teams in the NFL don’t have to deal with injuries and the ones that do have players ready and capable of stepping right into a role and helping out.

Although there might not be a miracle cure or way to avoid injuries, especially some of the freak incidents that occur in games, players already know that the thought of an injury can’t be on their minds when they are playing because that’s usually the fastest way to another injury.

Carriker, for example, has been struggling with injuries the past two years but he knows that some things are just unavoidable and the best he can do is simply move on.

“How do you avoid it? I don’t know how to avoid it,” Carriker said. “I mean injuries happen. I work hard in the weight room which is part of the frustrating part for me. How do I put it behind me? To be honest, when it comes to injuries, myself, I look at it as I work my tail off in the weight room, I work my tail off running, which I know I do. So when anything happens, I don’t know what more I could have done. So I don’t worry about it basically is what I am saying. As long as I work my tail off, which I know I am going to, I don’t worry about it.”

Carriker, like the rest of the Rams, can only hope that their luck is about to turn.