In the aftermath of Monday’s devastating news that star linebacker Anthony Barr is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, former Vikings linebackers Ben Leber and Chad Greenway brought some levity to the situation with a brief exchange on Twitter.
“Looks like our guys need some depth,” Leber tweeted. “How about we lace ’em back up for another year?”
“I am ready when needed,” Greenway replied. “Haven’t changed my number.”
“I still have my mouthpiece,” Leber concluded. “Which is really disgusting.”
While the former teammates were clearly joking, and neither plans to make a potential comeback, if the NFL has another Sunday like this past weekend, there soon will be some open roster spots across the league.
In a span of a few hours, Giants running back Saquon Barkley, 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa and Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton all went down with torn anterior cruciate ligaments, and things were only getting started.
Some other notable injuries included Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey suffering a high-ankle sprain, Packers receiver Davante Adams straining his hamstring and Colts safety Malik Hooker rupturing his Achilles tendon.
That doesn’t even come close to accounting for all the injuries, many of which were serious, that occurred during arguably the most injury-riddled Sunday in recent memory.
“It was crazy, man,” Leber said. “I don’t think I remember a time where on the same Sunday we had so many big name guys go down with the same type of injury.”
It raises the questions: Was the NFL’s injury-infested weekend tied to the fact there was no preseason? That’s something Vikings coach Mike Zimmer brushed off as “speculation” before going to to speculate on the situation himself.
“I wouldn’t know,” Zimmer said. “Typically, when we don’t have the things that we have prior to the season, we get more injuries. Usually it’s hamstrings and things like that. Not the major injuries that had been occurring.”
While it’s impossible to say with any certainty that not having preseason practices and games resulted in more injuries, Leber thinks there’s a correlation. He played nearly a decade in the NFL and always thought there was some value to the preseason despite its flaws.
“As much as guys don’t want to say they see value in the preseason, I think there’s a natural ramping-up period that the coaches put the players through as far as the amount of contact they have,” Leber said. “You are putting the body in a very stressed environment, and that matters.”
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that if Barkley took 20 snaps in the preseason, he wouldn’t have injured his knee on Sunday. But Leber hypothesized that Barkley’s body would have been more prepared with those reps than without them.
“I do think there is probably something to the fact that they didn’t play preseason,” Leber said. “You look at a lot of these injuries and they are acceleration-to-deceleration injuries. Not necessarily getting to prepare the body for those stressful environments means it isn’t as conditioned when it comes time to go 60 or 70 plays at full speed. Those little muscle fibers and connective tissues that hold things together are not as conditioned as they would be.”
There’s also the point that no preseason meant more practices, and in turn, less time away from the field. Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph broached that subject a few weeks ago when asked how his body felt after no preseason for the first time in his career.
“Think about what our week schedule would be like if we had a preseason game,” he said. “There’s a walkthrough the day before, the day of the preseason game we get warmed up and maybe take 10, 12, 14, 16 snaps, so that’s essentially another day off, and then the day after the game is a day off.”
Instead, the Vikings ended up practicing nearly every day leading up to the season opener. That was the case for pretty much every team in the league, and that could contribute to the body wearing down quicker.
Asked whether he thinks this past weekend is the new norm, Leber replied, “I’ll pull back a little bit because I think it’s easy to lose perspective year to year.”
He stressed how even though it might seem like there’s an uptick in serious injuries every year, things usually tend to even out over time. There’s data to support that claim in an annual report released by the NFL.
Looking specifically at this year’s report, which was released in January 2020, the data showed there were 47 ACL tears last year between preseason games and the regular season. That was actually down from 57 ACL tears the year before.
Thus, it will be hard to determine the impact not have a preseason had until much later.
“Let’s see how things play out this season,” Leber said. “I think we can all agree that it would be nice if the next few weeks were injury free and we could kind of forget about this terrible Sunday that we had.”