Short week good for NFL players’ health?

While the NFL has been emphasizing safety, some believe playing in a short week is not the best idea.

11/14/2012 12:00 AM

11/14/2012 10:47 AM

There’s a routine to Mike Pouncey’s Sundays: Snap the ball, slam into 300-pound defensive linemen, and repeat — up to 70 times a game. After a while, those hits add up.

Most weeks, the Dolphins’ starting center hasn’t recovered from the pounding until the next Friday.

Bad news for Pouncey’s creaking body: The Dolphins play Thursday this week. And so, the aches and pains from last Sunday’s game will likely linger as he’s earning a whole new batch of soreness from the Bills’ front seven.

Pouncey wouldn’t complain about the short week, and few players in the Dolphins’ locker room expect anyone to feel much sympathy for them.

But with the league’s ongoing emphasis on player safety, some believe that scheduling these Thursday night contests sends out some serious mixed messages.

“Is playing a game on Thursday vs. playing a game on Sunday the best thing to do? No,” said Dolphins linebacker Kevin Burnett. “But, hey, if [the public] want to see it, of course guys are not going to turn it down.

“If we’re going to make player safety an issue, let’s make it an issue all the way across the board,” he said. “It’s an issue only until we’re making money. Let’s make it an issue, and let’s keep it consistent.”

Dr. Bryson Lesniak, an orthopedic surgeon with the UM Health System, says it is unclear whether playing on a short week increases the risk of injury.

But Lesniak, who is unaffiliated with the Dolphins, says that since pro football players act as “human missiles,” there’s an accumulative effect to such punishment.

Football players have an internal recovery clock of a week, set when they first started playing the game. Messing with that schedule messes with the healing process.

“If you’re still sore from the last time you play, you’d have to think your ability to play at the same level and protect yourself has to be decreased,” Lesniak said. “That just makes sense.”

Lesniak pointed to the Titans-Steelers game Oct. 11 as a worst-case scenario of a shortened week. Pittsburgh lost a slew of players to injury in that game, including Pouncey’s brother Maurkice, who hurt his leg. Running back Reshard Mendenhall suffered an Achilles’ injury that night, and hasn’t played since.

Now, it might just be a coincidence that all of these injuries happened on a Thursday night, but perhaps it is a sign of a deeper issue, Lesniak said.

The league monitors injury data from the Thursday night games, said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, and the preliminary findings shows there are fewer injuries, “but it is too early to draw any conclusions.”

For the most part, Dolphins players shrugged when asked about having to play three days early this week. It’s out of their hands, Nolan Carroll said, so there’s nothing gained by grumbling about it.

“I didn’t do too much banging on Sunday, so I’m OK,” Carroll said. “Other guys, like linemen, linebackers, guys that hit every play, they need a few more days.”

When asked if four days is time enough to physically recover, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said: “It has to be.”

Games on Thursdays are as old as the NFL itself. The league has made Thanksgiving as much about football as turkey and stuffing. But for decades, those midweek games were the exception. Yet with the growth of the NFL Network, the league schedules a game most every Thursday night of the season.

Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano sees it as a positive.

By playing Thursday, he’ll have a rare weekend off. Aiello said the league has gotten similar feedback from the players’ union.

As for Pouncey, he planned ahead for the short week.

Instead of relaxing with his family Sunday night after the Titans game, he went straight the Dolphins’ training complex and hopped in the cold tub. The freezing water decreases swelling, and rejuvenates the body.

Pouncey knows he won’t be completely right come Thursday. But he believes he’ll be close enough to compete.

“It’s football; we love going out there playing a game, whether we’re 100 percent or 80 percent,” he said. “We’re still going to go out there and play the same way. This game is going to be a physical game whether it’s played [Wednesday], Thursday or Sunday.”

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