With the 2023 NFL season approaching, the South Florida Florida Today News reviews 10 storylines to keep an eye on in a 10-part series ahead of the first day of Miami Dolphins training camp, which is scheduled for Wednesday.
It would seem that this is an easy decision for Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel. Several key players have years of injury history, so it makes sense to rest them during training camp in hopes of keeping them healthy at the end of the season. Implement a “load management” program, to use an NBA phrase, for training camp.
Here’s another reason for this approach: according to the league, training camp has the highest injury rate among NFL players. After a three-day acclimatization period, the league reports that hamstring and groin injuries peak between days 5-10, resulting in an average seven-day absence.
But load management is not an easy decision.
“You weigh a lot of things,” McDaniel said last season. “The main thing is what is best for the team, which means what is best for this player? How much work do they need?
Last year, McDaniel was able to work out with several veterans during last year’s regular season, including Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead and defenseman Melvin Ingram.
“That’s what I’m used to doing with guys who have a second or third contract,” McDaniel said, “because they know how to get the job done and what to do if you miss Wednesday, miss Friday or whatever.”
Perhaps this year the load management roster will be expanded with a few younger players starting at camps. The idea was to keep them healthy for December and January.
You remember some of the most notable misses from last season.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has missed the last three games, including a 34-31 playoff loss to Buffalo with a concussion. Armstead has missed three of the last seven games due to various injuries.
Running back Raheem Mostert (thumb) missed the wildcard game.
Pro Bowl quarterback Xavien Howard, a 30-year veteran of seven years, struggled with groin and hamstring injuries last season, missing a game in New England in Week 17 and a game with the New York Jets in Week 5.
The list goes on and on, and injuries like this are a major reason the Dolphins have lost six of their last seven games.
These player absences make one wonder what the Dolphins can do to prevent a similar fate at the end of the season this year.
Armstead, a 10-year veteran who turns 32 ahead of training camp, and Mostert, a 31-year-old eight-year veteran, could probably use training camp and pre-season rest.
Armstead’s load management option last season meant that for most of the second half of the season, he trained on Wednesday, rested on Thursday, and trained on Friday, which is usually the team’s special practice. Armstead suffered injuries to his toes, chest, knee, and Achilles tendon.
“He’s a guy who’s proven time and time again in his career that he’s been able to put together a really good game by putting practice together,” McDaniel said.
Mostert, who has suffered from injuries in his career, fared well physically for the most part, playing in 16 games last season and missing a game in Houston (knee) as well as a wild card game. But it must be carefully monitored.
Mostert ended 2017 on the reserves with injuries due to a knee injury suffered in early November, ended 2018 on the reserves with injuries due to a broken arm in late November, was placed on the reserves twice in 2020 with a high ankle sprain (October and December) and only played one game in 2021 with a knee injury.
Tagovailoa, whose main problem last season was concussions, doesn’t take hits or make contact during training camps and joint practices, but things are different in pre-season games. And while starting players usually play four or five quarters in preseason, which makes Tagovailoa less likely to snap, giving him less contact and more snaps with backup quarterbacks Mike White and Skylar Thompson is probably a good idea.
During the off-season, Tagovailoa did things like jiu-jitsu training and core and abs work to ensure he had a chance at good health.
“He’s in excellent condition,” McDaniel said in June. “I’m very encouraged by the work he’s doing to prevent injury through core and neck training.”
But regardless of off-season work, limiting shots at training camps for some players can be considered the logical conclusion of data collection.
The NFL requires all players to wear tracking devices that measure their preseason workload. The data is collected and analyzed by the league. Dolphins, who are heavily into analytics and player measurements, also keep a close eye on such things on their own.
Newly acquired linebacker David Long Jr., a 27-year veteran of four years, could probably benefit from training camp workload management. He missed six games in each of his last two seasons with hamstring injuries. On the other hand, given that this is his first year at the Dolphins, a normal workload could benefit him more.
Deciding who to rest and who to play fully at the training camp, joint training and pre-season games is not easy for the Dolphins coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, medical staff and front office staff.
Several key players are returning from injury-shortened seasons (right tackle Austin Jackson, defenseman Brandon Jones and cornerback Nick Needham, to name but a few). However, they will probably need all the shots they can handle to get back in top-notch shape.
It’s reasonable to assume that the Dolphins can handle load management for 30 year olds like Armstead and Mostert. But it will be interesting to see if this practice extends to younger players starting training camp.
As the Dolphins confirmed last season, it’s hard to win games when the best players are on the sidelines.
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