Gus Malzahn said on March 1 that Auburn was “probably the healthiest we’ve been going into the spring” in his six-year tenure as head coach.
That won’t be the case when the Tigers conclude practice after Saturday’s A-Day spring game. This spring has not been particularly kind to Auburn on the injury front.
Freshman linebacker Josh Marsh was ruled out with a leg injury before the spring started, and JUCO defensive lineman Daquan Newkirk tore his Achilles tendon the day before the first practice. Wide receivers Eli Stove and Will Hastings both tore their ACLs, and center Nick Brahms suffered a broken leg. AL.com reported Tuesday morning that center Kaleb Kim could miss the remainder of the spring with a sprained ankle suffered Saturday.
That’s not to mention quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who has been slowly ramping up his activity throughout practice but is still questionable to participate on A-Day after undergoing offseason left shoulder surgery.
Malzahn balked at the idea that those injuries had anything to do with Auburn’s strength and conditioning program led by Ryan Russell, though.
“Our strength and conditioning program is one of the best in the country. Really, last year, we stayed really healthy for the most part without just a couple of minor things. So, I feel very good about that,” the head coach said.
“This spring, you’re talking about the injuries. Both of those (Stove and Hastings) were really fluke deals. Really if you look back at, I guess, since we’ve been here, five years or whatever — maybe this is the sixth spring — we’ve had very few season-ending injuries in the spring. Probably count them on one hand. Russell is the best, there’s no doubt about that.”
Though fans would certainly much rather see Auburn emerge from spring healthy, it’s difficult to argue with Malzahn. Especially when it comes to the ACL injuries suffered by Stove and Hastings, who were expected to be two key pieces of the wide receiving corps.
A Google search for “How to prevent ACL injuries in football” will return no shortage of results, but according to Dr. David J. Chao — a former NFL team doctor and practicing orthopedic surgeon who goes by @ProFootballDoc on Twitter — those suggestions work best for untrained athletes.
In fact, he wrote in his regular column for the San Diego Union-Tribune this past August, the majority of regular football training already includes these techniques. There is also no amount of training that will prevent those injuries, the vast majority of which occur without contact when a player cuts or changes direction.
“No matter how much you train, the ACL of a 300-pound lineman is no different than the size of your ACL,” Chao said. “The ACL doesn’t get any bigger as players get bigger, faster stronger, so it puts more stress on it.”
The injuries suffered by Auburn’s players this spring are perhaps magnified by the ones suffered during both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. While not particularly high number, they have been high in impact.
Quarterback Sean White suffered a shoulder injury and broken arm that derailed Auburn’s season in 2016, as did running back Kamryn Pettway’s quad injury. Pettway was limited to just five games in 2017 due to plantar fasciitis and, later, a fractured scapula, and fellow running back Kerryon Johnson suffered a shoulder injury in last year’s Iron Bowl that limited his effectiveness in the SEC Championship game the next week.
But sometimes, injuries are simply unavoidable.
“There’s fine lines. You have to practice, but when fluke things happen, that’s just part of the game,” Malzahn said. “So what you have to do is get other guys ready, and on the flip side of that, you’re going to get other guys ready that are going to get reps in the spring, and hopefully we’ll get those other guys ready.”
As of Saturday, Malzahn was “not ready to say” if there would be any changes made to the A-Day format this weekend. He is scheduled to speak to reporters next on Thursday.