You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net
One thing that stuck out about the recent group of draft picks and free agent signees that the Redskins have added lately is the history of injuries that many of them carry. Top pick Rocky McIntosh has fought through back problems. Kedric Golston broke a leg in a car accident and broke a shoulder blade playing football. Kevin Simon and Spencer Havner missed significant time in college due to knee injuries. Chris Mineo, a defensive tackle from UTEP who was signed on after last weekend's rookie camp, missed a good chunk of his senior season with an ankle injury.
One reason that the Redskins have such a collection of the formerly walking wounded is that they decided to take some calculated risks with some of their late-round picks. A player such as Simon, who twice led Tennessee in tackles, would not have been available towards the end of the draft had he remained injury-free throughout his career. If he has shaken the problems with his knees he could be an outstanding performer on the field. If not, well, if the 250th selection turns out to be a bust it's hardly a devastating blow to the organization.
There may be another reason for the preponderance of players with injury histories, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Consider what Gregg Williams had to say in his comments at the recent rookie minicamp, comments that echoed sentiments similar to what he has expressed in the past:
We want to look at their longevity, trustworthiness, and their accountability in their college ranks too. Everybody is going to get nicked and injured but how do they bounce back from it? How do they fight through those kind of things? For the most part every one of these rookies that came out here have had to fight through some type of adversity in their young sports careers. That is going to be the same thing up here. They are going to have to fight through that.
Williams seems to be saying that, within reason, a history of coming back from injuries is a resume enhancer when it comes to getting a shot at playing on defense for the Washington Redskins. Just like it's easy to blow off your rehab when your knees are aching, it's easy to pack it in when your team is 5-6 and has to run the table to make the playoffs. If you have the character to come back from an injury, that's a good indicator that you have the character to get through the inevitable rough spots that come up over a 16-game NFL season.
Looking back, this is not a new philosophy for Williams or for Joe Gibbs. Look at some of the team's first acquisitions when they came to Washington, the free agent group of 2004. Shawn Springs had missed 13 games in the three seasons prior to 2004. Joe Salave'a, due in part to injury problems, had played in just 20 games in the three seasons before to coming to Washington. Some teams shied away from them because of their injury histories. It seems that the injury factor may have been one of the reasons that Williams and Gibbs were attracted to them.
LaVar Arrington is no longer a Redskin for a variety of reasons, one of which could well be how he handled being seriously injured for the first time in his football career. To be sure, there is every indication that Arrington worked hard to get back onto the field. However, when he suffered a couple of setbacks in his rehab, he unleashed a tirade against the team to a couple of reporters who happened to run across him at Redskins Park. He accused the team of pushing him back too soon from his injury and of not caring that he was about to have another surgical procedure. Arrington was facing a moment of truth, a character-revealing moment, and he let his emotions get the best of him. Perhaps that's not a big reason why he's now a New York Giant, but there's no question that it made the decision to let him go that much easier.
Of course you can't build an entire roster out of players who have missed significant time with injuries. For every Springs there is a Marcus Washington, who has missed just one game in six seasons in the league. Still, in an organization that places such a high value on character, the character revealed by the display of determination needed to come back from injury is something that will get the attention of Gibbs and Williams.
Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has an account of every game the Redskins played from when they moved to Washington in 1937 through the 2001 season. For details and ordering information go to http://RedskinsGames.com