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With News of Bulaga's Injury, Focus Is Back on Packers Training & Medical Staff

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With News of Bulaga's Injury, Focus Is Back on Packers Training & Medical Staff

Packers offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga. Photo by Corey Behnke of CheeseheadTV.com.

With news breaking that Packers offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga had suffered a torn ACL during the team's intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday, attention is back on the high number of injuries that have occurred in Green Bay the past couple of seasons.

Every few weeks I have fans ask me about the effectiveness of the Packers training staff. They can't help but see the inordinately high number of injuries sustained the past couple seasons and wonder about the underlying cause.

I've always wanted to dig deeper into this topic, but it's not exactly an easy one to uncover. The Packers don't typically make their team trainer and physician available to the media, so it's not a subject oft-discussed.

This past January I had an opportunity to attend the NFL's Health and Safety press conference at the Super Bowl in New Orleans. I finally had the chance to ask an expert about evaluating the quality of a professional sports training staff.

 

One Medical Opinion

My window of opportunity was limited. I had less than two minutes to talk to Dr. Anthony Yates, team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers and president of the NFL's Physicians Society, so I wanted to get right to the point.

"How would you know when a training staff would not be doing a good job?" I asked. "Are there certain injuries, certain indications that say, 'Something's not right here'?"

"That's a pretty unfair question," responded Yates. "We all practice medicine with certain parameters and certain goals and certain protocols to follow, and if they're not followed, we get concerned. There's no real specific answer to your question. It's a body of work, I would think."

My intention was not to place blame on the Packers training staff, nor did it escape me that I was asking about a sensitive topic. I simply didn't want to let a rare opportunity pass me by. I certainly didn't mean to be rude, but I did want to ask direct, pointed questions.

I pressed on, asking if nagging injuries such as pulls, sprains or strains could be indicative of a training staff's ability to prevent injury.

Obviously I was influenced by the Packers' rash of hamstring problems last year. They ranged from Desmond Bishop's tear during a preseason game to less serious pulls that were the cause of 10 players being listed on the team's injury report at one time or another in 2012.

Among the high-profile players that missed regular season playing time due to hamstring injuries, linebacker Clay Matthews and wide receiver Jordy Nelson both missed four games and fullback John Kuhn missed two games.

"Those are clusters of injuries, just like there can be three quarterbacks in one week that get concussed," said Yates, referring to Week 10 of the season last year when Jay Cutler, Mike Vick and Alex Smith all suffered concussions. "It doesn't mean that there's a pathologic pattern of foot.

"I think you have to step back and look at the whole training program. It's not just the trainer, there's the strength and conditioning folks, there's individuals that are managing the player outside the realm of a football team, they do seek their own therapy. So it takes a lot of research to decide what or if we should be concerned in our colleagues, be it athletic trainer or fellow physicians or people that read X-rays for us, or second opinions or surgeons and so on."

These were fair answers from Yates. No doubt about it, a training staff can't be held liable for every single injury incurred by professional football team. It's a physical game, injuries happen.

I had time to ask one more question, and I asked how a training staff is evaluated.

"Each and of their own, they're all certified, they're all graduates, they've proven themselves through time," said Yates. "There's not too many rookie professional athletic trainers."

That was his entire answer, which in retrospect raises an eyebrow. Based on his response, there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of checks and balances occurring in the football health and safety community.

Perhaps it's no surprise that 78 percent of players polled don't trust their team's medical staff, according to a players' union study.

 

Packers Training Staff Praised

Back in April, Packers trainer Pepper Burruss was honored with the Fain-Cain Memorial Award as the league's trainer of the year by the NFL Physicians' Society.

Two years earlier, Dr. Patrick McKenzie was recognized with with the Jerry “Hawk” Rhea Award, given to the league’s physician of the year by Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS).

Anybody that closely follows the Packers knows about their unusually high amount of injuries, particularly in 2010 and 2012 seasons.

According to statistics kept by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, the Packers led the NFL with 91 starts missed due to injury in 2010. Five starters were placed on injured reserve and nine players started all 16 games.

At the time, those 91 starts missed were the fourth-most in the NFL since 2000, surpassed only by the 105 by the Tennessee Titans in 2004 and the 103 by the 2005 San Francisco 49ers and 2009 Buffalo Bills.

After a comparatively healthy 2011, the Packers again led the NFL in starts missed due to injury with 83 in 2012. Gosselin reported that four starters landed on injured reserve and only eight players started all 16 games.

In addition to the starters, 16 players in total were placed on injured reserve in 2010. The Packers went on to win six consecutive games to close out that season, and won four consecutive playoff games, all away from home, including Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Nine more players landed on injured reserve in 2012 and the number could have reached ten had the team decided they would have needed a roster spot to replace defensive lineman Jerel Worthy on the roster after he tore his ACL in a Week 17 game.

Perhaps it's because of the Packers ability to succeed in spite of their recent rash of injuries that Burruss and McKenzie have been awarded their profession's highest honor.

“It gets people’s attention,” Burruss told thePackers official websitein April. “But you don’t want the award to be ‘the most injured’ award.”

 

The Road Ahead

As for the season at hand, 16 players sat out of Saturday's scrimmage with varying degrees of injuries. Add Bulaga and tight end Ryan Taylor who suffered injuries during the scrimmage itself.

Where the Packers go from here will be worth watching as the 2013 plays itself out. They'll be counting on some combination of Marshall Newhouse, Don Barclay and David Bahktiari to get them through the season at the tackle positions.

The healthy return of Derek Sherrod from a devastating broken leg in 2011 would be a welcome addition but cannot be guaranteed.

Observers will also be monitoring the health of other players nursing injuries such as Nelson (knee), cornerbacks Tramon Williams (knee) and Casey Hayward (hamstring) and defensive lineman Mike Neal (abdomen).

Mike McCarthy has already said that Nelson's knee issue is a re-occurrence of an injury from previous seasons. And Neal has been injury-prone ever since being drafted in 2010, playing in only in 20 out of a possible 48 regular season games due to shoulder and knee injuries.

There's a long way to go before the story is written on the 2013 Packers and what they achieve. They have yet to play even their first exhibition game.

But many will be waiting to see whether Bulaga's injury is merely an outlier in 2013 or the continuation of a trend.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (50) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

EBTerp's picture

I think its natural to look for answers given the amount of injuries this team has been through but at the end of the day alot of it boils down to dumb luck...look at SF they were probably the healthiest team in football last year and already have lost 2 starters for the year...are we to believe their trainers are doing anything different..of course not.

Al Katraz's picture

What about the other side of the coin as in the Packers draft a lot of late round draft picks. Take Frank Zombo, he was smallish and oft hurt in college playing level II football.
Guys like this were passed over for a reason by 31 other teams, 5 or six times (rounds).
If Ted needs to play cheap ball and give up second and third picks to save money. those extra picks become guys who were injury prone, smallish and or slow.
Not to mention, level I players got the best conditioning coaches in football and learned to take care of themselves.

TwoMoreCuts's picture

But isn't the flip side of all the trade downs, is that you have more guys. While the Packers have had a lot of injuries, they've also had a lot of depth to replace them.

Evan's picture

How does your "late round" theory explain the injuries to Matthews, Sherrod, Perry, Worthy, Neal, Bulaga, Nelson, etc...?

MarkinMadison's picture

Bingo.

Stroh's picture

Frank Zombo was not smallish. He was a 260 lb college DE. THe average size of a 34 OLB is 6'3 255 give or take. Zombo was right on target size wise and fit the profile for a 34 OLB in the NFL. I don't believe he was injury prone in college either for that matter.

TwoMoreCuts's picture

I think there is a definite difference between an ACL tear and lingering issues. An ACL tear is just a freak accident. Your knee moves the wrong direction, or someone rolls up on it and boom it's popped, there isn't a training staff in the world who can prevent that. That being said, afterwards when that player gets back on the field you move into a different area, where setbacks and other injuries are possible (or not, they could just be perfectly fine). It could just be the Packers have an inordinate amount of those players on the roster, it could be the training and weight staff puts undo strain on certain muscles or joints.

It's definitely something to be looked at, but I don't think this Bulaga injury is a very good example of any sort of injury prone...ness.

Mark in the montain's picture

Didn't Bulaga continue to play after his initial injury on Sunday. Some of the responsibility has to go toward the player who didn't get his injury checked-out early, and possibly caused a small tear increasing to a season ending injury?

Stroh's picture

Heightened levels of testosterone and adrenaline mask the pain that you would certainly feel otherwise. Not too mention the "walk it off" mentality and desire to not leave the field mentality that exists in football and other sports.

Badknees's picture

The Packers Medical staff is World Class correcting injuries. They are third world in preventing injuries. Preventing injuries is not the focus of this staff. It is not going to change unless heads roll.

Bearmeat's picture

Where do you get your information to make such a bold statement?

Badknees's picture

Leading the league in injuries again. And most everyone believes it is not the fault of the medical staff. Geesh!

Icebowler's picture

I think it might be one of the (few) drawbacks to the Draft and Develop only theory. Most Free Agents have proven over time in the NFL that they're quite durable. The few FA's that are still available in July and August seem to have injury histories.

rjwh23's picture

Good article Brian. Hope you continue to provide comparitive injury data throughout the season. In my opinion the trainers are down the list for placing blame. Coaches, strength & conditioning personnel and the players need to be evaluated first. Also think more of a micro analysis needs to be made. Instead of measuring "all injuries" I'd like to see metrics by injury type. Teams like the Packers should already be doing and the NFL would be smart by doing a league-wide study. The loss of front-line players harms the product and not doing everything to support player safety causes other problems as we've seen with concussions.

Jamie's picture

Not to be a complete jerk, but anyone putting more focus on the Packer's training and medical staff due to Bulaga's injury is completely out of touch with reality.

darthvander's picture

Not necessarily. Anyone who's had knee injuries/problems will tell you that there are definite exercises that can be done to strengthen the knees and take undue stress off the joints. Not sure that translates to what these guys put themselves through. But the question is fair.

We've all thought this. Good article.

Jamie's picture

No, necessarily this is nothing more than blamemongering...perpetuated by know-it-alls like yourself.

There is absolutely zero reason to believe that a knee exercise that you speak of would have made any difference, or for all we know wasn't part of his workout regimen.

darthvander's picture

Easy cowboy. Just saying that there is, in fact, the potential that more cloud be done. True those exercises, and I know they exist, might be part of the routine. But they might not. And it's worth the discussion when there have been so many injuries.

Ruppert's picture

Great piece, BC.

TommyG's picture

x2

Longshanks's picture

It's almost as though a curse has been cast from above to this team? Is Irvin Favre somehow upset at how the Packers handled his son? Is there some unknown power from above trying to bring this team down year after year? Will it be lifted once Brett returns to Green bay? Who knows.

What I do know is based on the past 5 seasons or so that.. Datone Jones and probably Eddie Lacy and another rookie will be sure to go down to a season ending injury and Derek Sherrod will be "close" but won't play for yet another season.

Will we ever have a full season where we will see Bryan Bulaga, Derek Sherrod, Mike Neal, Jerel Worthy, Nick Perry, Clay Matthews not miss a single game?

I understand teams have injuries but with Green Bay it's ridiculous. McCarthy has tried a different approach this season trying to prevent injuries and it's still epidemic. I say if not the trainers and nutritionists it has to be a curse. What else could explain this?

By the way, don't be surprised if some player gets injured skeet shooting with McCarthy this afternoon and is done for the year. You just know it's gonna happen.

Chris Davis's picture

Did I hear you right...Sherrod is out this year too? If so then he just took over the worst draft choice in the Ted Thompson Era!

Jamie's picture

Yes, because draft picks that have both bones in their lower leg snapped by a leg whip should fall on Thompson's shoulders.

Jeezus WTF is wrong with you people.

nick perry's picture

The dude broke his leg in two places. He weights 335 Lbs. It's not like he can just jump right up and plat. Doesn't work that way on men that size.

Cole's picture

I honestly think Yoga would help prevent some injuries.

Fish . Crane's picture

? I would think yoga is being used with every sports team by now?? It's 2013 for cripes sake. If not....OMG

Stroh's picture

yoga is NOT in the training regiment for NFL teams. Some players who want may incorporate it, but it is not appropriate for NFL players on the whole. Better ways to work core strength and dynamic flexibility. Trust me...

Fish . Crane's picture

flexibility, strength, secondary muscles, core, breathing, endurance, mind and body awareness, mind over body control to overcome the burn.... not sure how that can't help anyone.

Again without proven research on the perfect training system... most are just doing the best they can

Stroh's picture

It can help a lot of people but its also not helpful to the type of conditions football players are involved it. Static flexibility doesn't help much if at all in a sport that demands dynamic flexibility. Static core strength doen't help much in a sport where dynamic core strength is needed. Mind/body control is great when its lost, but footall player and athletes have terrific proprioception.

Zaphod Beeblebrox's picture

I agree that you can't pin Bulaga's particular injury on any strength/conditioning program.

However, the other injuries, potentially. Didn't the Bears fire their strength and conditioning coach in 2004 after an unusual amount of hamstring injuries?

Zaphod Beeblebrox's picture

Yep, Russ Riederer "retired" after the 2004 season. Found that reference in this article re: the Packers switching training philosphies when McCarthy was hired in 2006. Note that Gullickson was canned and they hired Tom Lovat's son Marc to be the new S&C coach...

http://tnation.t-nation.com/free_online_forum/music_movies_girls_life/nf...

Lou's picture

Interesting and timely blog and excellent comments. The Brewers are going through a rash of hamsting injuries but they appear to be isolated to the pitching staff which could be easier to address assuming they all do similar workouts in preparing for games. Bishop's injury was much like Brian Noble's, he was caught in an unusual position with no escape under a lot of torque, no program can prepare you for that. The only real concern I have with the Packers medical staff is pre-draft physicals for players who in effect have been injury prone in college and earlier like Harrell, Starks, and Neal. I can see taking a late round chance on those types but not in the earlier rounds. I hope they learn from those mistakes.

Fish . Crane's picture

Without research on "the perfect training techniques to reduce injuries in NFL players in cold climates, with occasional indoor games and warm weather games, also to include snow and rain ..." Packer trainers like all the rest are trying their best with no perfect system.

Tundrabum's picture

Brett Favre's new RX Pro pain cream will save the day ... or not.

darthvander's picture

Ha

Stroh's picture

I don't want anyone to take this as me being a know it all or anything of the sort. I will say that I have a degree in Exercise Science. I was a long time member of the Natl Strength and Conditioning Assoc and certified thru that organization as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist. I worked for about 2 years as a S and C coach for a hockey team. Not a vast experience, but I do have good knowledge of the field of the training and conditioning of athletes in general.

Suffice it to say I have a good strong background in the field, even tho I no longer work in it. From what I know of the Packers training and conditioning programs, they are doing movements/exercises that are football specific, some that are position specific and even down to individual specific based on their histories. I saw video of the Packer S and C programs and can attest the efficacy of the program itself. They focus on functional movement, dynamic movements and flexibility. They use active rest periods to simulate game time and on-field conditions w/ little rest between sets and exercises. By my estimation the packers are training the players appropriately.

Many player when they leave after the season hire their own trainers, such as the guys at Athletes Performance Institutes to stay in shape and ready themselves for the next season, after a coulple weeks off after a season has ended.

I feel comfortable saying that the Packers S and C staff are doing the training programs that are correct and specific to Football.

Its unfortunate the Packers are suffering from injuries to this degree, but in my (somewhat expert) opinion, it is bad luck more than anything. It sucks... But if I were involved in the training, I would be doing thing very much in the fashion the Packers are.

AS an aside, I did NOT agree w/ the training philosophy's employed by Shermans S and C staff.

Stroh's picture

One other thing I will say... The reduced practice time at all levels of the game, is IMO partly to blame, not for the Packers only, but football in general, for more injuries to players. It used to be that training camp consisted of long practices, and 2 a/days. THat had a way of weeding out the players who couldn't stay on the field before they even reached the NFL. Players that would get injured a lot rarely made it as far as the NFL. Now w/ lighter practice schedule thru HS and college the injury prone don't get weeded out as much before they reach the NFL.

For overall player health and specifically long term health implications it is a wise practice, but it does lead to players making it to the NFL that otherwise would have been weeded out earlier in their careers.

zeke's picture

"...not for the Packers only, but football in general, for more injuries to players."

Unless I missed it, this is what's missing from all of the analysis of the Packers' medical/training staff: comparisons to the rest of the league with regards to the number, types, and severity of specific types of injuries. Otherwise it's just "Sherrod broke his leg, therefore the trainer sucks" and whatnot.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I have questioned the S and C coaches in Green Bay. Mostly for the reoccurring hamstring injury's and whatnot. I don't know how they compare to the rest of the league and I was wondering about that...

The other question is, can certain injury's be prevented if trained right? I understand most injury's are more of accidents but if muscles are strengthened can it prevent some of these injury's? For example, there seems to be a lot of torn acl's anymore. Can that injury be prevented a little more by strengthening the muscles around it?

I don't question the S and C staff as much as I questioned the medical staff. Last year Nick Perry hurt his wrist in week 1. Then week 6 he hurts his knee? but goes on injured reserve for his wrist to have surgery on it. That was odd to me.
Also Jennings was diagnosed with a wrong injury. He could have maybe came back earlier if it wasn't diagnosed wrong to begin with.
That's why I question their medical staff, more then the training staff...

Stroh's picture

" can certain injury’s be prevented if trained right?"

The answer is sometimes. Yes you train players for dynamic flexibility to try to prevent muscle strains. However, in a strength and conditioning environment, there is no way to simulate the same type of explosive nature of a football field. The stresses on the field are much more powerful on the field than can be achieved in the weight/training room. Guy put in great effort in the weight room, but the effort and therefore explosiveness on the football field far exceeds that of a weight room.

Stroh's picture

Extreme levels of adrenaline and testosterone on the football field allow players to do things far beyond what can be achieved or trained for, in a weight room.

As far as Jenning misdiagnosis, there so many muscles that make up the abdomen/groin. The difference of where one starts and another begins is not so neatly designated. And it varies from one athlete to another. They all feel the same and the Dr's have to rely on the athlete to "tell them where it hurts" so to speak to some degree. The medical staff can't feel the pain and the delineation very small. Medicine is not an exact science, like you may have been led to believe.

JakeK's picture

You've slanted your entire analysis to make it look like the Pack know exactly what they are doing ... again. ... No one can be credible with the extreme bias you hold. ...

The Pack Org can do no wrong, right?

UP-Packer's picture

Good to see the Strohman show up and provide all the real information. I mean, hell, he’s an expert, right? Just ask him. LOL.

lol sure things guys's picture

Right, it's such a bummer having someone who actually knows what they're talking about show up and give a detailed explanation when we're right in the middle of our "hurrrr Bulaga got hurt = trainer suxx" derpfest. You geniuses clearly have no idea what you're talking about whatsoever, so I'm not sure where you get off questioning the validity of someone who can discuss this issue at some length. Stroh addressed some of the questions from the article directly, but you don't like what you're hearing so it's time to make it a conspiracy. Boy do I ever hate homers.

JakeK's picture

@ lol sure things guys

Great 1st post. You may want to look for a different and better ID .... again.

MarkinMadison's picture

A lot of hate for some great posts here Stroh. For what little I know about training from personal use and personal injury recovery, what you are saying makes a lot of sense to me.

Longshanks's picture

After reviewing the film in my basement, I've determined that Bulaga's injury is not a result of incompetent trainers etc nor was it result of some curse from Irvin Favre which was a early theory of mine. It clearly was yet another case of bad luck.

I believe the play happened when Eddie Lacy, the biggest and strongest of Packers backs rolled up over Bulaga's knee on a run play to the left side. Just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and in a bad position body wise when that bulldozer Lacy just happened to be coming thru.

Barry's picture

I would like to know if the GB trainers make sure the players get adequate minerals in their diets and nutritional supplements.

Veterinarians,horse trainers and ranchers are well aware of the need for certain minerals to keep the joints, muscles, and ligaments healthy and flexible.

Homo sapians are a member of the animal kingdom. Unfortunately our physicians are not trained in proper nourishment and the physicians I know do not understand much about it. Therefore, I would put more trust in a race horse trainer than a physician or human trainer when it comes to feeding the body the correct diet and supplements to maintain healthy and flexible animals(homo sapians for you PCers).

Another missing ingredient to our inelastic hamstrings is probably "Collagen". Google that word and see what you think.

Stretching inelastic muscles won't help as much as feeding them the correct minerals.... ask a farmer?

Bad knees's picture

Well said. And, if the pelvis and or knees are a fraction out of alignment an injury will occur while performing typical actives.

Stroh's picture

The Packers have a training table which is stocked w/ the best foods. Including plenty of proteins, veges and fruits. During training camp especially the players eat very well since the meals are provided by the Packers. Its my understanding that they are also provided w/ supplements, including but not limited to vitamins.

During the season I am not sure how much other than lunch might be provided, since the players live at home during that time.

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