Camps are underway, and seasons are being shaped.
This is the third year of full training camps under the new collective bargaining agreement. In 2011, the league was coming off the lockout, so camps were short. Although they might not like it, coaches continue to adjust to the limits of what they can do. Padded practices are weekly, not daily. There are no two-a-days.
As a result, coaches aren't pushing players who have minor injuries. If there is a doubt about a player's injury status, the coach is letting him sit for a day or two. Coaches understand it is a marathon, not a sprint.
Here are five observations from the early days of camp:
1. Soft-tissue injuries are expected: Last year, there was an average of about one ACL tear per day in the first 15 days of leaguewide camp practices. The major injury problem hasn't gone away. San Francisco 49ers running back Kendall Hunter blew out an ACL on Friday. Since the start of camps, there have been four season-ending Achilles tendon tears: Indianapolis Colts halfback Vick Ballard, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Aaron Ross, New England Patriots wide receiver Greg Orton and Houston Texans guard Cody White. Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts and Carolina Panthers halfback Jonathan Stewart are out with hamstring injuries. Going from the post-organized team activities summer break to the start of training camp can be a shock to a body. Sad to say this, but expect 10 or 11 more major injuries over the next week and a half.
2. Good news on the ACL front: Although an ACL tear can be devastating for a team and a player, the recovery period for players is getting better. In the old days, a player might need 12 months to recover from a knee reconstruction. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski passed his physical and was available for practice despite blowing out his knee in early December. On Sunday, he was running half speed through drills, but that's progress. Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Henry Melton didn't have to go on the PUP list after suffering his tear the third week of September. Reggie Wayne was available for the Colts. So were Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams and Brian Hoyer of the Cleveland Browns.
3. The owners minimized holdouts when they negotiated the 2011 CBA: Even though Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and Kansas City Chiefs halfback Jamaal Charles reported late, there were only two true holdouts this year: Seattle Seahawks halfback Marshawn Lynch and San Francisco 49ers guard Alex Boone. Compare that to 1991, when 103 draft choices and 193 vets reported late. The penalties for staying away from camp that are part of the CBA discourage holdouts. Look at Lynch. He's losing $30,000 a day in fines. If his holdout goes to the sixth day, the Seahawks could ask him to repay $900,000 of his $6 million signing bonus (15 percent). Each additional day could cost Lynch another 1 percent of the signing bonus up to a maximum total of 25 percent. If the holdout gets past Aug. 5, Lynch would lose a year toward free agency. A missed preseason game would cost him a game check from his $5 million base salary.