The New York Giants Training Dilemma

There are two things a Giants’ fan is more sensitive about than a fan from another team:

  1. How nightclub gun play can ruin a season.
  2. How an accumulating number of injuries can sabotage a season.

Issue #2 has been a problem for the New York Giants for most of the decade. During the 2003 season, the injury situation was so bad that Tom Coughlin addressed it at his introductory press conference as new head coach in January 2004:

“I am also aware of the injury factor; the number of IR’s and those kinds of things, which is a cancer let’s face it. It is something that has to be corrected. It is a mental thing I believe as much as it is anything else.”

Unfortunately, since that day, the injury situation has continued to plague the Giants. Let’s look at the last six seasons:

2004: After a fast 5-2 start, the Giants finished 6-10. 18 players finished the season on Injured Reserve, including DE Michael Strahan, DE Keith Washington, DT Norman Hand, LB Barrett Green, S Shaun Williams, S Omar Stoutmire, and WR Tim Carter.

2005: The Giants won the NFC East with an 11-5 record. But New York was obliterated in the playoffs 23-0 by the Panthers. One of the primary reasons for the poor playoff performance was injuries. Starting at linebacker that day were Kevin Lewis, Alonzo Jackson, and Nick Greisen. On Injured Reserve were LB Barrett Green, LB Carlos Emmons, LB Chase Blackburn, LB Roman Phifer, CB Will Peterson, S Shaun Williams, HB Derrick Ward, and WR Jamaar Taylor.

2006: The Giants started off 6-2 but finished the season 2-6 and barely made the playoffs. The team was defeated in the first round of the playoffs by the Philadelphia Eagles. On IR by season’s end were DE Michael Strahan, DE Justin Tuck, LB LaVar Arrington, CB Corey Webster, WR Amani Toomer, LT Luke Petitgout, HB Derrick Ward, and KR/PR Chad Morton.

2007: The Giants won their seventh NFL Championship. Big injury losses included TE Jeremy Shockey, LB/DE Mathias Kiwanuka, and HB Derrick Ward. DT William Joseph was lost early in the season. But the number of players lost was not great. The biggest issue was managing Plaxico Burress’ ankle injury.

2008: The Giants started off 11-1, finished 12-4, and lost in the first round of the playoffs again. Plaxico Burress was missed after he shot himself. But injuries to key defensive linemen such as DE Justin Tuck and DT Fred Robbins slowed down the pass rush tremendously. DE Osi Umenyiora was lost before the season began and was missed. The Giants could not get any pressure on Donovan McNabb in that playoff game.

2009: The Giants started off 5-0, but finished 3-8 and missed the playoffs. Injuries hit the defense incredibly hard, including S Kenny Phillips, CB Aaron Ross, CB Corey Webster, LB Antonio Pierce, LB Michael Boley, DE Justin Tuck, DT Chris Canty, and DT Jay Alford. The running game was sabotaged due to injuries to HB Brandon Jacobs, HB Ahmad Bradshaw, HB D.J. Ware, HB Andre Brown, FB Madison Hedgecock, RT Kareem McKenzie, and LG Rich Seubert. QB Eli Manning went into a mid-season slump when he injured his foot. WR Hakeem Nicks and WR Mario Manningham were not 100 percent.

Who is to blame for all of these injuries? Injuries that ruined once promising seasons? Perhaps no one. Football is a violent game. People get hurt. Always have, always will. Sometimes it is the luck of the draw. Players are also bigger, stronger, and faster today. When you have bigger, stronger players moving at faster speeds right at each other, guess what’s going to happen?

But the Giants also seem to suffer from a lot self-inflicted muscle injuries, such as hamstring pulls. Chris Canty, who never missed a day in Dallas, missed most of the season with hamstring and calf muscle injuries. Aaron Ross suffered four hamstring pulls. The word “hamstring” was commonly seen on Giants’ injury reports. Why? Luck? Coincidence? Who really knows?

There is a school of thought out there that today’s modern-day athletes over-train. As soon as a season is over, they are training on their own before being expected to participate in intensive “voluntary” team strength training and conditioning programs. Then there are Organized Team Activity (OTA) days, mini-camps, training camp, a long preseason, and a grueling 16-game regular season. There is not much time to rest and recuperate those tired and aching muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, and bones.

But the dilemma is this: with everyone training more and more, getting bigger, stronger, and faster each day, can a team afford to experiment and pull back? Can a team risk losing that arms race with other teams when jobs and careers are at stake? Perhaps the training is not the problem. Perhaps it is. It’s like debating global warming – everyone has an opinion and their own science – but most people are not quite sure.

What to do? Giants’ coaches, trainers, and doctors should comprehensively examine the issue, consulting with outside experts who have conducted research. Consider their findings and their suggestions. Don’t just assume all these injuries result from “bad luck.”  That very well may be the case, but what if it isn’t? Perhaps there is a better, smarter, and safer way to train professional football players.