This coming weekend will be the first opportunity for New Orleans Saints brass to view the new arrivals for 2017 in team garb at rookie minicamp.
Several of the New Orleans draft picks have experienced an injury or two in their recent past.
Top pick Marshon Lattimore has been battling hamstring problems. The other pick in round one, tackle Ryan Ramczyk, has had a torn labrum in his hip. Third round linebacker Alex Anzalone, taken by the Black and Gold with the 76th overall choice, has had shoulder problems and broke his arm last season.
Anyone who has participated in team organized tackle football from the prep level on up understands that injuries, large or small, are part of the game. Of course, the degree of a given injury must be determined by the team’s medical staff. If the injury is considered something serious , it must be addressed. It could even be a factor in termination in the player’s participation in the sport.
Most injuries are the lingering type, in which the player just has to deal with it on a personal level.
Saints GM Mickey Loomis was quizzed about the injury issues of the selected players following the draft, particularly Lattimore.
“You pay attention to it. We trust our doctors and share the information with other teams. Well, we don’t share it, but the doctors talk to each other at the Combine. They create an opinion and we trust what the doctors tell us. We good feel about (Lattimore).”
Multiple reports have surfaced concerning linebacker Reuben Foster taken by the 49ers and the unfavorable grade on his injured shoulder prior to the draft. The Saints had him in their cross hairs ready to grab him at No. 32, right before San Francisco beat them to the punch.
One gentleman has seen it all in his many years as an NFL trainer. Dean Kleinschmidt, now retired, had spent 41 seasons in the National Football League as a head athletic trainer, 31 of them with the Saints. He knows as well as anyone that injuries are part of the game.
The drafting of those players with “red flags” due to injuries riled up a few of the Saints fans. It’s not only the injury that you have to consider, but the degree of that injury.
Lattimore’s hamstrings bring back memories of past Saints players with the same problems.
“I have immense respect for the staff at Ohio State,” Kleinschmidt stated. “I know the doctors and trainers (there) very well. There is so many full time nutritionists to support a player. Every hamstring is not a chronic injury. You just don’t send a player back too soon.”
Kleinschmidt sits on Mount Rushmore among those in his profession, residing in five Halls of Fame. He is in the National Trainers Hall of Fame, Louisiana Trainers Hall of Fame, Southeast United States District Hall of Fame, Senior Bowl Hall of Fame and Saints Hall of Fame as the recipient of the prestigious Joe Gemelli honor due to his unwavering contribution to the organization.
The dean of trainers has spent 46 seasons assisting the Senior Bowl and has been with the NFL Combine since 1982. Needless-to-say, he knows his craft.
“You shouldn’t bury a guy just because of a hamstring injury. It is a very common injury. I am sure the Saints have evaluated with an MRI and give their blessings. They don’t all become chronic,” Kleinschmidt explained.
Determining the level of concern about a given injury is what training staffs do to help the organization evaluate a player.
“There are a lot of reasons why hamstring injuries occur. It could be a hamstring strain or tear. We grade those types as mild, moderate or severe,” said Kleinschmidt. “The NFL strength and conditioning coordinators have a lot of background (for injuries). The players will be tested carefully for flexibility. If a player is lacking range of motion, for example, that will be specifically addressed.”
A grading system for injuries vary with each team, but these are the common parameters:
0-pristine injury background.
1-No injury concern.
2-Injury with a little concern, perhaps surgery within past few years that has healed.
3-injury with some concern (example: a player with one year out of an ACL injury, repair anticipated, two years to fully heal).
4-A dicey or question mark (red flag) on past injury or injuries.
5-A total reject due to injury.
How does a team determine to take chance on a red flagged player?
“A grade 4 would require owner approval,” Dean explained. “In most cases, it was strictly the (medical) staff’s judgement. If you’re in love with a guy, you look hard at these things. There could be a risk factor. We give our best medical judgement.”
In 2008 and 2009, Kleinschmidt was in the Motor City with the Detroit Lions. Jim Schwartz was a rookie head coach in ’08. “We had a guy with hamstring problems,” the Hall of Fame trainer continued. “We were conservative and gradually moved him toward activities. Some head coaches take a conservative approach. Coach Schwartz told me when an athletic trainer says that a player is ready, he will give him two days to go (back on the field).”
During his trail throughout the NFL, he encountered a number of players with a checkered medical background with an ability to overcome.
“Rickey Jackson was a genetic freak,” Kleinschmidt bellowed. “He only missed one game during his career following an auto accident.”
Each player is unique. You have to peel back a layer.
In 1972, the Saints grabbed a middle linebacker out of Kentucky in the 4th round (99th overall).
“Joe Federspiel had a bad knee. It clicked and it clacked. I told him ‘you have an old man’s knee.’ He never missed a game nor a practice.”
Federspiel (6-1, 230) spent nine productive seasons in the Big Easy, playing in 111 games. He also spent one season with the Colts and another with the USFL’s Chicago Blitz.
His play in New Orleans earned him introduction in the 1993 Saints Hall of Fame.
Sometime with injuries, you just have to go with what’s in your gut. No example is more pronounced than a fateful moment 2006 free agency. Drew Brees had a thumbs down on his shoulder from Nick Saban and the Miami Dolphins’ medical staff before signing with the Saints and making history.
Sometimes, you just roll the dice and hope Lady Luck smiles on you.