Football is a dangerous game, and it doesn’t take a long look at the NFL to see just how.
Consider this list of names: Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, DeShaun Watson, David Johnson, Dalvin Cook, Allen Robinson, Julian Edelman, Odell Beckham Jr., Tyler Eifert, Greg Olsen, Jason Peters, Joe Thomas, Haloti Ngata, Jordan Hicks and Eric Berry.
No, that’s not an All-Pro roster—it’s 15 players who are either currently on injured reserve with the possibility of returning or have been ruled out for the remainder of this season. In a matter of seconds, a wrong step or the weight of another 250-plus pound man can end a player’s year and potentially ruin his team’s season.
Yet, despite all that has gone wrong in a season that continues to snowball out of control for the Blue Devils, they have somehow avoided the injury bug almost entirely.
“Sometimes it’s the roll of the dice,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “We have not protected them any more, we have not done anything differently with practice schedules. We’ve just been very fortunate overall.
“A year ago, we had seven starters that had to have surgeries, so it’s just been different. I’ve thought about that a lot and I visit with our medical staff all the time each year and we look at trends, at practice schedules, at times of the year and honestly, right now, there’s no explanation.”
Other than freshman center Will Taylor, who has been sidelined the entire season, just seven other names have appeared on the Blue Devils’ weekly injury reports. Starting left tackle Gabe Brandner missed the Florida State matchup after a leg injury vs. Virginia, and it was a similar story for Brandon Hill and Quaven Ferguson against Northwestern and Baylor, respectively.
Beyond that, Duke’s health woes have been little more than a ‘probable’ here, a ‘questionable’ there or a few missed plays on the sideline during a game.
“Especially this offseason, our training and strength staffs did a great job of doing injury prevention,” Brandner said. “We did some extra work in the training room, especially with hamstrings, so it was kind of ironic I went down with a hammy. But actually for the most part, I feel everyone has maintained their health, and I attribute a lot of that to those prevention protocols.”
Like most college teams, the Blue Devils headed into the regular season with a five-week training camp. But from there, Duke played nine consecutive weeks of games—the most it has faced prior to an open date since 2012.
The real work in staying healthy this season, though, took place well before the Blue Devils even began camp.
As Brandner explained, each player went through strength training and biomechanical assessments early in the summer. The Duke training staff then tasked each player with exercises to appropriately address individual “deficiencies.”
Still, most teams have implemented similar methods with the goal of staying injury-free throughout the course of a grueling 12-game slate and a season that now goes almost year-round.
Some, like the Blue Devils, have avoided major casualties. Others have not had nearly the same fortune, like North Carolina, which has already declared 18 players out for the season and has another six questionable for its Thursday night contest.
Around the rest of the ACC, Florida State has played without starting quarterback Deondre Francois since Week 1, Boston College linebacker Connor Strachan is done for the year and Wake Forest wide receiver Greg Dortch’s first season came to an early end after an abdominal injury two weeks ago.
Duke might not want to attribute its lack of injuries purely to happenstance, but no one seems to have any explanation as to why the Blue Devil medical staff has had little to worry about in 2017.
“I don’t really know what it specifically is,” senior safety Alonzo Saxton II said. “It’s been very nice to have basically all our players healthy, but I don’t know what I can attribute that to. But whatever it is, I appreciate it.”
Coming off a break, Duke will need to regroup. Some of its players mentioned a mindset of going 4-0 to close the season, and with three familiar opponents left in the regular season, it’s not crazy to think that three victories and a bowl win are in play for the Blue Devils.
But as their head coach said, the biggest key will be going 1-0 each week. And health should be crucial for Duke as it looks to get things going back in the right direction.
“The biggest thing you have when you stay healthy and you’re in a good position to practice is that the team will continue to improve,” Cutcliffe said. “My history has always told me that we have to go focus on ourselves in November.... When you’re healthier in these circumstances, you should be a little hungrier. Hopefully, we see a great deal of improvement over this two-week span.”
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."