Aaron Nagler chatted with Packers fans via Facebook Live on the third day of the NFL combine in Indianapolis on Friday. Aaron Nagler/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
INDIANAPOLIS – Unhappy in just about every way with how the 2017 season went, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy made sweeping changes on his coaching staff, explaining later that it’s a “results business” and a 7-9 record mandated change.
One spot McCarthy did not touch, however, was his strength and conditioning staff.
Despite another year when injuries once again forced McCarthy and his staff to shuffle players in and out of the lineup, he left coordinator Mark Lovat and assistants Chris Gizzi, Thadeus Jackson and Grant Thorne in place.
There is no empirical evidence that Lovat’s training philosophies are tied at all to the number of injuries that take place in a violent sport such as football, but at the same time McCarthy gave up on Dom Capers, Mike Trgovac, Edgar Bennett and others after a relationship of nearly a decade or more, he never considered not bringing back Lovat for a ninth season.
“Obviously through our evaluation, I don’t think strength and conditioning is the issue,” McCarthy said during a break at the NFL scouting combine last week.
The 2017 season would have been different if quarterback Aaron Rodgers hadn’t broken his right collarbone against Minnesota in Week 6, and no one in their right mind could blame a flawed conditioning technique for that injury.
But the number of injured starters was considerable, especially on the offensive line, and it was puzzling how so many players throughout the roster suffered foot and ankle injuries. Of the 22 starting positions, 17 had at least one game lost due to injury.
General manager Brian Gutekunst oversees the medical staff and doesn’t have say over strength and conditioning, but he said he supports the current staff and thinks it’s unfair to put the blame on them. He said the organization has done countless studies to try to improve the injury rate and adjusts training techniques from year to year.
He said he’s confident the Packers are doing things the right way.
“There’s so many different parts of it that affect that injury thing, whether it’s training or body types,” Gutekunst said. “I think we’re always looking to improve. And we have. We’ve changed things in different areas.
“It’s not just one thing. It happens in our business when you have a bunch of injuries and everyone wants to blame the strength coach. It’s not fair. Too many things have gone into that.”
Last season, the Packers were in the middle of the pack in the NFL when it came to games lost due to injury.
According to Mangameslost.com, the Packers ranked 17th with 237 games lost to injury. Man-Games Lost includes players who were put on injured reserve during training camp even if they weren’t going to make the team, so the numbers are a little inflated.
Using only players who were on the 53-man roster at some point during the season, a total of 36 missed a combined total of 183 games.
Given that Man-Games Lost uses the same criteria for every team, their rankings are probably about as accurate as anyone could calculate. The Packers’ No. 17 ranking is much better than a stretch from 2009-13 when they ranked 5th, 6th, 18th, 1st and 2nd in games lost due to injury.
From 2009-16, their combined totals ranked sixth highest for games lost.
Since McCarthy in 2014 changed the practice schedule so that Friday was a recovery day, the Packers have ranked 15th, 24th, 10th and 17th in most games lost due to injury, according to Man-Games Lost. Still, the Packers have not had a year like the Minnesota Vikings just did when they suffered so few injuries they finished 31st in games lost.
Both Gutekunst and McCarthy said the Packers’ draft-and-develop philosophy is always going to result in a higher number of injuries than a veteran team. They said rookies haven’t matured physically and need time to learn how to take care of their bodies so they can last through a minimum of 20 games.
“The body types of the player, you’ve got to take that into account,” McCarthy said. “Youth of your football team. Are guys ready to play when they play? Does one injury lead into two? My biggest challenge with (running back) Aaron (Jones) was when he was coming out of training camp is he was on the ground all the time. Jamaal (Williams) was ahead of him.
“He got into the game and was kicking (butt) and he had a medial collateral (sprain). Are they physically ready to play at the level that they may be needed? Is he a 300-rep player? A 500-rep player? Or do you think he’s going to come right out of college and play 1,100 snaps? All those variables are part of it.”
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Last year, general manager Ted Thompson took several medical risks in the draft.
Top pick Kevin King had been dealing with a loose shoulder since his freshman season at Washington and lasted just nine games. Fourth-round pick Vince Biegel had suffered a Jones fracture in his foot his senior year and re-fractured it soon after he was drafted.
Jones had missed all but two games of his junior season with a severe ankle injury and seventh-round running back Devante Mays was limited to just six games in his final season at Utah State due to knee and ankle injuries.
Gutekunst said the personnel department must take some of the blame for drafting players who might not be physically ready or who might be susceptible to injury at their position.
“Even our side (personnel), the body types we’re trying to bring in, is a big part of that as well,” he said. “Having to play players young before they’re physically ready to be out there because it’s a different game than college, the training room, the strength staff, and then there’s a lot of personal responsibility on the player himself.
“All those things factor into it. I think we’re always kind of aware and trying to get better there.”