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San Diego mindful as ever of injury history

Posted Feb 24, 2012

The Chargers traditionally have invested resources investigating the medical background of college prospects. The team believes it’s important to avoid mistakes this year after back-to-back seasons affected by injuries.

INDIANAPOLIS – San Diego’s full complement of doctors and trainers are poking, prodding and non-stop investigating the bodies of the 327 prospects at the NFL Combine this week for hours each day.

It’s not a process born of epiphany – the Chargers always have delved into the injury history of potential draft picks. But this year there is a certain intensity of focus and understanding of significance that accompanies the task.

San Diego played 13 different offensive linemen in 2011 and 13 different linebackers in 2010. The team also employed five long snappers in 2010, and 17 different players caught a pass for San Diego in 2010 as well. The Chargers finished the last two seasons with a combined 22 players on Reserve-Injured.

Still, teams like Green Bay in 2010 overcame a large number of injuries, made the playoffs and advanced, with the Packers winning Super Bowl XLV.

“Maybe this year is a year we’re going to look at it a little closer, but that’s not to say we haven’t looked at it closely in the past, because we have,” director of college scouting John Spanos said. “It is very important. We’ll team up with our doctors and if there are any big concerns we’ll keep that in mind on guys. It’s something we’re going to look at closely.”

Chargers President Dean Spanos personally investigated the source of San Diego’s injuries the last two years and found most of them were point-of-impact collisions, like broken bones or concussions, or muscle-related issues with no predictive signs.

The team will continue to analyze and take into account predisposition to injuries as it prepares for this year’s draft.

“I think we’ve done a terrific job in that regard. I think we have a terrific medical team of trainers and doctors,” General Manager A.J. Smith said. “You’ve got to be good, lucky and injury-free. I’ve said it forever. It’s a winning combination, and sometimes you can be unlucky over a period of time with some injuries that you cannot avoid.

“If someone was not hurt in college, for example, and has three foot operations in a period of three years, that’s going to be a problem, but it’s not his fault and it’s not our fault. Muscle pulls and hamstrings, we look at that. Is it a training regimen? Is it practice time?”

Each player at the Combine spends at least a few hours running through an array of tests, questions and evaluations in the most expanded version of your standard physical imaginable.

“They double-checked everything,” said Wisconsin center Peter Konz, who dislocated his ankle this year and missed portions of three seasons in college. “I was in an MRI machine for like six hours straight. My schedule’s a little different because everybody wants to make sure I’m doing fine.”

No matter how thorough teams are in the pre-draft process, it’s not all science. It’s impossible to be 100 percent correct. There are, however, some things that make health projections more reliable.

“Part of that is about the work habits of the player both in high school and more in particular in college,” Smith said. “When they become professional football players, are they going to work year-round and prepare to become the best football player they can be? That’s something I pay very close attention to as far as a pattern.

“If someone’s an outstanding football player, that’s a good start, but what kind of a worker is he? That can lead to all kinds of problems in preparing for an upcoming season. Remember this – the transition for a college player in that first year, some of those kids are playing a double football season.

“Later on we call it the rookie wall. Until their bodies and training habits adapt to the grueling schedule and physical games of the NFL, there’s an adjustment period, and we are willing to work with players during that adjustment period if they’re willing to pay the price and work very, very hard.”
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