The Dallas Cowboys have yet to play an organized game of football this year, and a familiar foe has already reared its ugly head: the injury bug.
The team re-signed defensive end Anthony Spencer in April after he spent the entire 2013 season on injured reserve. It is still unsure when he will take the field again, or if he will ever fully recover from microfracture knee surgery.
In May linebacker Sean Lee, the most important player on defense, tore his ACL during organized team activities. He missed five games in 2013 with neck and hamstring injuries, and will miss the entire 2014 season.
This past week, rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence broke his foot in practice after hardly being touched as he was guided upfield by tackle Tyron Smith. Whatever progress Lawrence has made thus far becomes virtually meaningless as he recovers for the next several months.
Last season the team had ten players on the injured reserve list by the final game of the season. In addition, twenty-one players missed at least one game due to injury in 2013. In particular, the defense was decimated by injuries, with seventeen players missing at least one game due to injury. According to Football Outsiders’ report on adjusted games lost due to injury, the Cowboys ranked 28th in the league in injuries on defense.
The plague of injures that has haunted the franchise for the past several years begs the question: why can’t the Cowboys stay healthy?
The Cowboys ranked in the middle of the pack in total adjusted games lost in 2013 due to injury, ranking 17th in the league. In fact, eight teams that ranked lower than the Cowboys in AGL made the playoffs. While they have certainly suffered a significant amount of injuries, the Cowboys do not seem to be an anomaly from an empirical standpoint.
This season, the franchise has taken steps to reduce injuries to knees and hamstrings in particular. All linemen were required to wear knee braces during minicamp. Players like quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray are being rested during certain portions of practice. Additionally, head coach Jason Garrett elected not to execute a conditioning test upon the team’s arrival to training camp in an effort to avoid injury.
Finally, there is a possibility that the team’s strength program is insufficient. A recent Yahoo Sports article suggested that the amount of injuries suffered by Cowboys players could be a systematic problem with the strength program, and not coincidence. Such a dilemma would point to the team’s strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik as the culprit for the overabundance of injuries.
Whether the Dallas Cowboys’ recent rash of injuries is coincidental, systematic, or is due to the players’ susceptibility to injury, one thing is certain: they must stay healthy if they plan to compete at a high level in 2014.