Allow me to fix the NFL’s most recent concussion crisis. Not solve, mind you, but to give league officials the least-painful solution that stops people from questioning them. Using the example of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton getting hit in the head in Week 1, when he was lucky to come away conscious, let alone outside the NFL’s concussion protocol, it’s a very simple fix. Any hit to the head requires a quick examination by medical personnel.
If necessary, the medical staff on either sideline informs the referee that they have to make a check and the clock is stopped. The player comes to the sideline, goes through a test that takes less than a minute, and if they can clear him to return, saying they see no symptoms – no glassy eyes, no delayed response, no slurred speech – then play on. Want to make it look even better? Video each one. Put a GoPro camera on the head athletic trainer and have those tapes reviewed each week by the NFL and NFLPA, or by an independent board.
It really is that simple. Would it prevent or reduce concussions? No, but it would be a visible step that shows the NFL is taking this seriously, doing what it can and taking steps. The fact that the NFL and its broadcast partners could sneak in a couple extra commercial breaks should make it even more palatable.
That problem solved, let’s look at the injuries from around the league:
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (high ankle sprain)
Wilson relies on his mobility for almost every part of his game, so any limitation on that changes his effectiveness. If this were Tom Brady or Carson Palmer, a mild high ankle sprain would be much less problematic. Wilson will wear some sort of brace or tape, which the Seahawks medical staff will experiment with during practice this week. The biggest issue for Wilson is that he can’t limit his movements. The things he does – the hard cuts, the quick direction changes – are precisely what will most test this sprain, mild as it is. There’s a good chance he’ll exacerbate it some, making it not heal up. The team has an early bye week (Week 5), so if the Seahawks can get him there and use that extra week to heal up, it will be a success.
Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills (post-surgical foot)
Sammy Watkins might have a screw loose. No, seriously – Watkins’ foot was fixated with a screw, like this one, but like any screw, it can work its way out. The feeling is normally not painful, but a few years back I spoke with Ahmad Bradshaw when he was going through the same thing and he said he could feel it moving and that it was weird. The bone itself is normally not at risk, but the procedure to put the screw back isn’t as simple as grabbing the Phillips head out of the box. It’s normally a full replacement, which requires a period of time for the bone to reform around the screw. The Bills medical staff will try to avoid that through a number of treatments and modalities, but it’s going to come down to how comfortable Watkins gets with this.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos (strained hip)
The diagnosis of hip injuries has come a long way in the last decade. For years, doctors misdiagnosed what we now know are sports hernias and hip labrum tears because there was no way to image them. New, more powerful MRIs helped and the “3 Tesla” variety are now common, allowing doctors to look deep inside. The problem is that we still don’t know much about these problems. It appears that’s what Thomas is dealing with. The mechanism of injury is classic, but by Monday he was feeling better. That’s also classic. The small tears in the acetabular labrum only are problematic if they “catch” or if the bone of the pelvis/hip and the femur start rubbing together. Surgery is fairly successful and simpler than you’d imagine. Many players have come back from this, but it’s clear that the Broncos would rather see Thomas have this fixed in the offseason. It will be about maintenance now, so keep an eye on Thomas in both the short and medium term. For now, I wouldn’t expect any deficits.
Robert Griffin III, Cleveland Browns (fractured/sprained shoulder)
“Coracoid fracture” makes Griffin’s shoulder injury sound very technical. Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s a bit different than what Sam Bradford or Tony Romo have dealt with, but the mechanism is essentially the same. In all of those situations, the quarterback was driven to the turf and the force broke something. With Bradford, it popped the shoulder out and mostly damaged soft tissue. Romo stuck his arm out and the force fractured his clavicle. With Griffin, it was a bit of both. His shoulder was forced backwards rather than forwards, creating a severe sprain (acromioclavicular sprain) but also fracturing the small coracoid process that comes off of the scapula. These both normally heal in about a month, but the move to IR will force Griffin out for at least 8 games. We’ll see if he has a job to come back to when he does, or if the team even elects to use the one IR return on him.
Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers (sprained knee)
Is Allen injury prone or just unlucky? It’s hard to connect a kidney laceration and a non-contact ACL sprain, but people around the NFL are doing it. I don’t like the “injury prone” tag, but feel it’s more of a chronic thing, where a player proves that for one reason or another his body simply can’t handle the stresses of the NFL. Arian Foster is a perfect example of this with his various injuries season after season. (He did look good physically in his Miami debut.) Allen is talented, no doubt, but doesn’t seem to be able to stay healthy. He should have no issues coming back from the ACL sprain next season.
As for the “non-contact” part of this, Mike Ryan of NBC Sports made a great point. The most dangerous contact is with the ground. It’s not even seams in turf. Just the normal motion of the receiver. Try this experiment (gently) at home. Stand like you’re running, right foot slightly ahead of the left. Then turn back, like you’re looking over your right shoulder for a pass from Philip Rivers. Feel that twist in the knee? It’s natural, but it’s the very same stress that felled Allen.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (bruised hamstring)
Sources with New England tell me the decision to sit him for Game 1 was made early to clear things up for Gronkowski. While he could have played if this was a more important game, the team shut down the questions and the pushing. There’s also some question about how seriously Gronkowski takes rehab. My guess is, about as seriously as he takes everything else. There were some very public issues during his forearm infection, and with the same staff in place some trust issues wouldn’t be unusual. Gronkowski will be back at practice this week and a similarly early decision will be made on his playing. I’m told that unless he’s 100 percent all week, the team is inclined to rest him again.
Chris Ivory, Jacksonville Jaguars (strained calf)
Ivory didn’t just get scratched from Week 1, he was in the hospital while the team played. There’s been very little explanation about how Ivory went from strained calf to hospital bed. While it could be anything – kidney stones is one suggestion – there’s also the more direct possibility. Exertional compartment syndrome is a painful, difficult to diagnose issue that could shelve a player for weeks or longer. This great article about Rahim Moore’s situation from MMQB gives great insight. To be clear, we don’t know if that’s what Ivory is dealing with, but given that he’s still hospitalized, it’s one strong possibility. For now, we’ll continue to monitor the situation.
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles (displaced first rib)
“Rib displacement” is just as painful and unusual as it sounds. Ertz didn’t fracture his first rib, as some are erroneously reporting. It just moved. The first rib is the highest one, just under the collarbone, and it’s not supposed to move. Normally, this is exceptionally painful, but it doesn’t appear Ertz is having much problem with that. It normally moves to the front or back. If the rib gets back into place naturally, the thick connective tissue that holds it in place will need some time to heal. This is almost always a pain tolerance issue, but the Eagles and Ertz say that there’s minimal pain. He’ll definitely need to make sure it heals properly, so his Week 2 play is unlikely, with questions about how much more he could miss.
As expected, running back Jamaal Charles was inactive in Week 1. It bears watching to see if the Kansas City Chiefs increase his practice workload. … Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing suffered a Grade II sprain of his MCL, which should keep him out around a month. He had an MRI on Monday to check for other damage, but there’s no indication of more significant issues. … Julio Jones has foot and ankle issues while Mohamed Sanu limped off in the Atlanta Falcons’ opener. Keep an eye on both of wide receivers, especially since the team is in its last season at the Georgia Dome. Field maintenance is often held back in final-year situations. … Tight end Julius Thomas looks like a weapon for the Jaguars, so they’re glad his ankle sprain is minor. He should be back at practice late in the week at worst … Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier appears to have avoided serious injury in his opener on Monday night. The team thinks his knee didn’t suffer significant damage late in the Steelers’ win at Washington.