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What the XFL Can Learn From The NFL’s Injury Struggles

Football fans have likely noted the rash of injuries occurring across the NFL. An unprecedented 7 ACL tears occurred this past Sunday alone, alongside widespread soft tissue injuries such as hamstring, shoulder and ankle sprains.

While some blame the lack of a preseason for this trend, it is a multifaceted issue of great concern, and the XFL should be taking careful notes as they gear up for the next season (whenever that may be).

It could be that the NFL’s bloody Sunday is a freak occurrence, or that injuries that would’ve happened in the preseason anyways are just happening now, but it seems apparent that the new offseason schedule has had a significant impact on the players.

With virtual OTA’s, no rookie camps, limited contact practices, and no preseason, players have had far less acclimation to contact. This ramping up period typically happens in full-contact scrimmages, shared practice, and preseason games, all of which have been either reduced or outright eliminated this offseason.

These rising issues come at an interesting time for the XFL, which is getting the wheels turning after the purchase proceedings. Earlier this week we reported on former XFL Director of Operations Sam Schwartzstein’s comments on offseason prep.

Seemingly this strategy was effective for the XFL in 2020. While there were of course guys like Landry Jones, Nelson Spruce, and Antonio Callaway who got banged up, we weren’t seeing players drop like left and right for 5 weeks.

Now the caveat here is, it looks as if the NFL has also followed a six-week timeline in 2020.

Acclimation: August 3rd-11th

Gradual Ramp-Up: August 12th-16th

Full Practice: August 17th-September 6th

Opening Weekend: September 13th.

They followed a nearly identical outline to what the XFL used as their minimum last year, and while we’ll need to see more data as the season progresses, it seems that acclimation injuries will be a dominant storyline in the NFL this year.

Preventative Measures

So what can the XFL’s new ownership do to avoid the pitfalls of such injury trends? Given the league’s existing structure they’re already in a good position, as Oliver Luck & Co did a lot to ensure player health.

First I’d point to the reformatting of kickoff & punt returns to reduce full speed, head on collisions. Returns are more of a concern concussion-wise, but changing the coverage rules led to much safer and more interesting returns overall.

Also important here is the addition of Team Nine to create a reserve of players acclimated to contact throughout the season. The express purpose of this institution was to reduce acclimation injuries, so it shows that pieces of the XFL’s braintrust were long ahead of the curve here.

Its noteworthy that the XFL plays just 10 games in a season, so while this may not affect these early season injuries, it is good news for teams down the stretch.

One disadvantage the XFL will face is that there has been no contact between players and official conditioning coaches and medical staffs in this strange, nebulous 2020 offseason. While players train independently, not having a team doctor to turn to or an established offseason regimen will mean the league will have to work harder to get players up to speed when it resumes operations.

Training Camp Lessons

The NFL allowed just 14 padded practices in Training camp this year, and without shared scrimmages & preseason its becoming clear that more time was needed to get players into game condition. Depending on what the COVID climate is looking like when the XFL begins, and the possibility of a bubble, it could be viable for the XFL to hold preseason scrimmages as it did last year.

If scrimmages are not possible, additional practice time would go a long way to help with the issue. One of the underlying points of the XFL has always been giving players more practice reps, and a guy like Dwayne Johnson will absolutely understand the value of this.

The best part of the league’s new ownership is that Dany Garcia & The Rock are both professional athletes in their own right as bodybuilders, so they understand these nuances better than anyone.

“Suits” as the Rock once called football management, may see the stats and trends, but these two are intimately aware of the efforts necessary to keep one’s body in performance shape. If anyone is positioned to ensure the safety and conditioning of the players, its our new owners.

Extenuating Circumstances

There are many factors going into player health beyond conditioning and acclimation. Among these, is something that has become an issue for the NFL just this week, and may be a pressing concern for the XFL down the road.

Turf. Kyle Shanahan’s already injured 49ers squad suffered a catastrophic slew of injuries on MetLife Stadium’s artificial surface. Altogether, they saw Jimmy G, Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman go down, and both coaches and players pointed to the “sticky” turf in New York.

If a game surface is too tactile and doesn’t have enough give, players’ cleats can stick too deep. Then when the game moves, their plant foot might not move with it, causing serious problems for their knees, hamstrings and ankles. With acclimation concerns already abound, this could be a grievous multiplying factor, and the NFL is in fact investigating the field this week.

The problem here? The New York Guardians played in MetLife this past spring. It appears that the Landtek Group & Field Turf installed a new surface back in May, after the XFL season ended.

Giants HC Joe Judge says their team had no issues on it, and the turf reportedly passed over 20 inspections, but this is a situation that ownership will have to stay on top of.

These are all factors that must be considered moving forward into the XFL’s future, because while it’s all done for the love of football, player safety has to be a priority. The league has already set a good precedent for attending to these issues in the past, and there is much that can be done to ensure that the XFL’s on-field product is as bulletproof as possible whenever it returns.

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Matt Nagashima has been covering the XFL since before the 2019 Draft, and has witnessed history being made as a Credentialed Reporter for the Dallas Renegades. While he is engrossed with the X's and O's, the roster building and more, it has always been his goal to keep the players first in mind in coverage, showing the human aspect of this sport behind all the action on the field. With Dany Garcia and Dwayne The Rock Johnson now at the helm, he's excited to see all the opportunities that this league will create for players to showcase their talent and make their dreams come true.

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