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Trying to stop the bleeding

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“How the team holds up in 2019 is likely to be telling. Lightning striking twice can be a wild coincidence. A third time would feel like more than just bad luck.” - Michael Phillips, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Washington Redskins v Chicago Bears Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Two days ago, I read a brief article that didn’t say much:

The Redskins appear to at least be doing their due diligence as to why they are so injury plagued.

It is frankly stunning how injured they’ve been the past two years. The Redskins had 28 different players listed on Injured Reserve throughout the 2018 season, according to Pro-Football-Reference, 26 the season prior.

Michael Phillips [talked about an article] he’s working on regarding Redskins injuries and the steps the organization is taking to alleviate the issue moving forward....

“Bruce Allen and the Redskins were so concerned about this, they hired outside consultants to come into the building this offseason and examine everything about the way the Redskins handle injuries. Top, down. Top to bottom.

”Gave them full latitude of the building – ask questions, do whatever you want. So I can tell you that while it is still happening, that’s bad, there’s at least a general awareness that this is bad and this is not normal.”

”So yes, they are asking the questions,” he said. “I don’t know that they’re receiving answers that anybody would deem satisfactory or that are changing the course of things, but I can tell you that it is on the radar and yes, they spent a little bit of Mr. Snyder’s money looking into that.”

I found this interesting. Very interesting, in fact.

Following the 2017 season, I had planned to write an article suggesting that the Redskins should get some independent expert to look at the injury situation. Before I got around to it, the organization announced the establishment of a new treatment and recovery center, referred to at times on Hogs Haven by the tongue-in-cheek name, The Jordan Reed Rehabilitation Center and Josh Doctson Annex for Research into Puzzling Ailments.

Despite the seemingly derisive name, I thought the recovery center was a great idea. I loved that the franchise was trying to take positive action to solve an obvious and serious problem instead of just shrugging their collective shoulders and saying, ‘shit happens’.

Jay Gruden answered questions at the time and said that the team was concerned about the level of injuries, and that they were looking at what other professional sports teams were doing. They’d talked to experts, and they wanted to do everything possible to help the players prepare their bodies and recover from the physical strains of practicing and playing professional football.

This sounded like someone at Redskins Park had the right idea! (probably Brian LaFemina)

Jay made changes to the practice schedule:

When the Redskins begin training camp in July, the team will practice in the morning and will conduct their walkthrough in the afternoon. Coach Jay Gruden in the past did the opposite.

“I want to give them a full day to recover,” Gruden said. “I kind of have been doing a little research here and I think we practice in the morning, we are off the field around noon and they get a nice lunch. … So, I think to give that full time for recovery, so they can drink a lot of fluids and take care of their bodies is important.”

That was in June last year.

I was as vocal as anyone in proclaiming that the 2018 Redskins would be an improved team, if, for no other reason than the fact that they couldn’t possibly be hit as hard by injury in 2018 as they had been in 2017.

In 2017 the Redskins had 26 players end up on injured reserve.

In 2018, that number grew to 28 players.

Just like ‘sacks’ don’t tell the entire story of a pass rusher’s ability to disrupt the opposing offense, IR isn’t the only metric for evaluating levels of injury. It was probably worse than it sounded.

The Redskins had players who were on the field competing because of the feeling that they needed to be there — there wasn’t a “next man” to be “up”. The injuries were bad in 2017. In 2018 they were ridonculous.

I won’t be writing anything this off-season to the effect that the injuries can’t get any worse. I also won’t be walking under ladders, breaking mirrors or bringing home any stray black cats.

By the end of the 2018 season, I had the feeling that, while the Redskins had taken action last off-season, it clearly had been either the wrong actions, or not enough of the right things.

I once again started planning an article saying that the Redskins had to step up their game and do more. At the very least, I planned to write, the Redskins need to bring in third-party, unaffiliated specialists to evaluate what the trainers, coaching staff, and players are doing in order to identify how to fix the problem.

It’s the kind of article that I’d normally write and post in late-June, a couple of weeks ahead of training camp.

Well, it turns out that the Redskins organization didn’t need my advice last year, and they don’t need my advice this year.

They’ve already done what I thought they should do.

They hired outside experts, gave them total access to the injury data, Redskins personnel, and Redskins facilities and asked for a ‘white paper’ recommendation. ‘Tell us what to do’ seemed to be the remit for the outside experts.

Michael Phillips explained it all with an in-depth article published this week in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The most injured team in 2018? The same as the year before: The Washington Redskins.

And for the second year in a row, the Redskins are trying to do something about it.

During last year’s offseason, the Redskins flew their medical personnel to Europe, to review the methods being used by top international soccer clubs, who have to keep their players fresh over a long season that includes multiple leagues and international series.

The result was a number of new techniques and devices added to Redskins Park, including an ice machine that made ice out of Gatorade.

It didn’t work.

Why do the words, “It didn’t work” and the Washington Redskins seem to go together so much?

So after another injury plagued campaign, Redskins team president Bruce Allen brought in outside consultants who are experts in the field, and asked them to take a look at everything related to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of injuries.

Allen said the Redskins wanted to leave the slate as blank as possible.

”We have all the data on the injuries, and we gave them all of it,” he said. “We asked them to see if there was a rhyme or reason.

”We didn’t want any preconceived answers.”

I like this way of thinking and doing.

If I owned the Redskins, this is exactly what I would have done.

Seriously.

Except that I would have fired Bruce Allen before doing it.

What I’m keen to know is: What did the experts say? What, in their opinion, is causing the incredible rash of injuries to Redskins players?

“Ironically, they’re so unrelated it’s almost impossible.”

Huh?

Did Bruce just say that the experts didn’t find the answer?

Coach Jay Gruden offered this paraphrasing of the report: “Gosh, that’s too bad, man. That’s unfortunate.”

Meaning, the experts couldn’t pinpoint the problem?

Surely, you can’t be serious?!

To the average fan, leading the league in injuries two years in a row feels like it should be impossible. Inside the Redskins building, the sentiment is similar.

But if there’s a common theme or fix, no one has been able to pinpoint it. There were a number of smaller recommendations, but nothing big enough to address the fact that the Redskins put 26 players on injured reserve in 2017, and 28 in 2018.

Apparently he is serious. And stop calling him Shirley.

Okay, I’m flummoxed.

I thought sure, when I heard about this initiative, that the answer was gonna prove life-altering for the Redskins organization.

I’m deflated.

Phillips goes on to discuss what this lack of findings means for the Redskins and Jay Gruden, in particular. After all, he’s the one coaching the team with all the injuries and back-to-back sub-.500 seasons.

How the issue is viewed ultimately colors how fans view the decision to bring back Gruden, his staff, and most of the core pieces of the roster for the 2019 season.

Argument 1: The Redskins are just unlucky

There was no anticipating that Alex Smith would get hurt when he was signed to a 3-year contract, and setting any performance issues aside, no reason it was a bad idea from an injury standpoint.

Then, in the blink of an eye, the Redskins were on their fourth quarterback.

”I think we were the only team in the league who had a quarterback suffer a broken leg,” Allen said. “And we had two of them.”

Gruden cited the array of injuries his teams have had, nothing that it’s not a matter of how the Redskins handle a particular joint or ailment.

”You’re looking at two (torn) pecs, you’re looking at ankles, you’re looking at feet,” Gruden said. “It’s not so much muscle related, it’s knees - Geron Christian blew out his knee. Is that overwork?

”We’ve had a shoulder. Yeah, the injuries were all over the place. I wish we just had one so we could target it and say, ‘That’s why.’ But I don’t think that will ever be the case.”

Unlucky? Yeah.

Yeah, that makes me feel better. No one to blame. Two seasons, 54 players on IR, nobody’s fault.

That doesn’t sit well with me, but... it’s pooossssibbble.

So, what’s the other argument?

Argument 2: The Redskins are the victims of poor planning

The Redskins went into the 2018 campaign relying on Shawn Lauvao to be the team’s starting left guard all season.

In Lauvao’s previous three seasons, he had played 3, 14 and 9 games for the Redskins. The fact that he made it just 5 games in 2018 should not have come as a huge surprise.

The Redskins similarly have other players on the roster where the depth at the position is not developed well enough to withstand season-ending injuries, including wide receiver, where Paul Richardson tried to fight through injuries last year before ultimately landing on IR.

One source of fan angst has been the intense work offensive line coach Bill Callahan puts his team through daily, though Callahan has been coaching since 1980, so it seems as though, if there were a correlation between his coaching and injuries, it would be well established by now.

So, injuries are higher than normal because we’ve got the wrong guys and not enough depth?

Bill Callahan is working them too hard?

It definitely feels better to have some directions to point my finger in.

One other theory is that the Redskins are more likely to draft players with injury risks, to try to maximize value. It appears they did so again this year in the first round, taking Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat, who was left off some teams’ draft boards because of a reported heart condition (other doctors have disagreed with the diagnosis).

Last year’s draft class included four players who ended up on IR - Derrius Guice, Troy Apke, Geron Christian and Trey Quinn.

So, what looks like smart drafting might be stupid drafting? I get that.

My mind immediately jumps to Jonathan Allen and his health concerns, playing only 5 games as a rookie. But the concerns were for his shoulder, and he went on IR due to a Lisfranc injury.

Fabian Moreau was supposed to represent good value because he got injured as part of the Combine process. Has he been injured since being drafted? I’ll have to look that up.

What would this mean about the wisdom of drafting Bryce Love in the 4th round?

The tight end position, with Jordan Reed, is another example.

”We have to go in there and prepare like they are going to be there 16 weeks and utilize their abilities the best way we can,” Gruden said. “And if they do get hurt, we have to have a plan moving forward. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, especially with Jordan. Because we count on him so much in the passing game that when he goes down it’s like, ‘Well that play isn’t any good because Jordan is not in it.’ Or, ‘That formation is no good because Jordan is not in.’ It shrinks your package down a little bit.”

Is Jordan Reed an example of an organization that is just closing its eyes, covering its ears, and refusing to see what everyone else knows is true? Is Jay blind to the fact that you can’t build an offensive plan around a player that appeared in only 64.5% of the team’s games in the last three seasons, and often wasn’t fully healthy even when he was active?

Michael Phillips is right about this; the perception of Jay Gruden will largely depend on the upcoming season.

If Jay has a healthy team and can get 10 wins, then I think ‘17 and ‘18 get written off as horrible anomalies without explanation, and Jay is seen as a victim of bad luck.

If the team has another season of injury with more than just a small handful of guys ending up on IR, then Jay and the rest of the staff will be identified, not as the victims of bad luck, but as the root of the problem.

If Jay produces another losing season, then — injuries or no injuries — there are sure to be changes at Redskins park.