Junior tight end Kyle Rudolph’s season-ending hamstring injury allowed the age-old football question to resurface this week among Notre Dame fans, message boards and news outlets:
Does physical health, both short and long-term, come before winning?
The answer? Well I’m Old Testament, so no, in football it does not, at least not when treating a sprain, bruise, strain or the occasional manageable break. Give me the Clausen pre-game special; wrap it up, rub some dirt on it, just get me out there.
Head injuries, on the other hand, are (pardon the pun) are bit of a gray area for most: One concussion? Likely par for the course. Two? Depending on the severity, it happens to most athletes.
As the number or severity associated with each rises – suddenly football becomes less important).
Concussions are wisely treated with great care in the new era of football, but reasonable minds can disagree on the merits of playing through the former grouping listed above. People that played and excelled, or failed, or were marginal at sports can disagree, too.
Fortunately for win-hungry Irish fans, the 2010 Notre Dame roster seem to be of one mindset on the subject. A few won’t perform because injuries greatly limit their potential effectiveness. The rest appear ready to give it the old college try.
“Theo Riddick will be out this week. He has a severely sprained ankle. We casted it yesterday to begin the healing process,” Kelly offered of the converted running back who caught an aggregate 33 passes over a four-week stretch prior to last Saturday.
“Its going to take some time…we were fearful it would require surgery; it doesn’t look like it will. But this is going to take some time to heal. I can’t give you a specific date or time. We’ll see after we get the cast off and the healing process begins.
The walking wounded at receiver continued to work its way up the Irish pecking order, with Michael Floyd’s game status now in question due to what Kelly described as a “Grade One” hamstring injury.
“We’ll rest him this week relative to practice, but we are going to dress him Saturday and see where he is,” Kelly said of Floyd. “We probably won’t have a true understanding of what he’s able to do until game time…kind of like we did with Armando last week and go from there.”
Kelly noted that senior Duval Kamara will receive most of the reps at Floyd’s starting W receiver spot and that freshman Tai-ler Jones will slide from the X spot to Riddick’s slot (Z) role. Sophomore Robby Toma will continue to backup the slot and junior John Goodman, who has started two of the last three contests at X will remain in that role with freshman speedster Bennett Jackson ascending to the No. 2 ranking behind Goodman.
Back in the fold
In other depth chart news, sophomore tackle Zack Martin will return to the left side after filling in as the starting right tackle over the last two games. Senior left tackle Matt Romine and classmate Taylor Dever will battle it out this week for a starting spot on the right side. Dever started the first five games at the position and fared well but missed both of the last two contests due to a hamstring injury.
“Romine’s had two very good, consistent weeks; Taylor’s been out, so you can imagine there may be a little bit of rust there. Both of those guys will battle at that position.”
Kelly added that Armando Allen feels better and he will likely practice Tuesday as the first step toward hitting the field Saturday.
Junior safety Jamoris Slaughter re-injured his ankle two weeks ago vs. Pittsburgh and was severely limited in Saturday’s win. Slaughter needs something few football players are afforded in season…time.
“What he needs is 2 to 3 weeks off,” Kelly said. “What we don’t have is time to give him off (due to) the reality of that position. I think we’re probably dealing with trying to keep us healthy as best we can but he has to play for us as well.”
Slaughter’s injury will likely allow walk-on safety Chris Salvi (#24) to travel with the team again. Salvi appeared late in the 4th Quarter Saturday and received a vote of confidence from Kelly as early as Week Three this season.
Are you hurt, or are you injured?
It’s a question most athletes are forced to answer, sometimes as a directive, but more often from the voice within. NFL players have long subscribed to the credo: “You can’t make the club from the tub” to describe the absolute necessity of suiting up for practice and game day.
College football is more forgiving of its athletes, but the appearance of weakness, mental or physical, still carries a stigma.
Asked how important it is for his players to battle through pain and minor injury, Kelly offered the following.
“I don’t know that there’s any player that wants to let his teammates down. When you get that component within your program, that they care about each other – that’s a strong component; wanting to get back out on the field. They don’t want to be regarded as the guy that couldn’t answer the bell so to speak,” he began.
“If you don’t have a team that cares about each other, if you have a team that’s more interested in what they do and how they do it, then maybe you have a little more than that.
“Guys that can’t play for us. They’re hurt.”
Neither Kelly nor most college coaches will ask a player to take the field seriously injured (a generalization, yes, but it’s far less common than in professional football).
Asked if the willingness to play hurt is an element of the team that’s been enhanced since Kelly arrived, the head coach deferred to an admittedly limited knowledge of the '09 team.
“I don’t know, you’d have to ask the players. I wasn’t here last year. All I can tell you is how I want our football team to respond.”
I was here last year. Notre Dame finished 6-6 but had the following players play through or return from severe injury:
- Jimmy Clausen (turf toe): Required off-season surgery; admitted being "shot up" prior to the bulk of the contests following the injury. Did not miss a game.
- Kyle Rudolph (separated shoulder): Returned for season-finale with a lame duck coach. Required off-season surgery. Missed only two games.
- Michael Floyd (broken collarbone): Had surgery, returned in five weeks and played through a 4-game losing streak that coincided with his return.
- Trevor Robinson (sprained ankle): Started, but could not finish games vs. Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Stanford (missed one game vs. Navy).
- Armando Allen (sprained ankle/broken hand): Was withheld from action (coach's decision) after pre-game warm-ups at Purdue. Returned for Game 5 vs. Washington and re-injured his ankle. Returned for Game Six and Seven, rushing for 98 yards in the latter vs. BC. Withheld for Games 8 and 9 (Washington State and Navy...whoops). Returned for Games 10 and 11, totaling 183 yards on 38 before breaking his hand (and remaining in the game with the injury vs. Connecticut). Missed Game 12 with a broken hand.
- Golden Tate, Chris Stewart, Duval Kamara, Mike Ragone, Kyle McCarthy, Ian Williams, Ethan Johnson, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Manti Te’o, Brian Smith, Kerry Neal, Eric Olsen, Sam Young, Paul Duncan, Robert Blanton, Sergio Brown, Steve Filer, Toryan Smith, Leonard Gordon, Mike Anello, Raeshon McNeil, Zeke Motta…each played all 12 games last season. Nine others played in 11 of the 12 (and a handful of those only missed due to the coach’s decision).
Did that group that played through injuries and the mental strain of a winless November finish 6-6 because they lacked toughness?
Or was it because sometimes you’re not well coached, not good enough, not cohesive enough, or yes, not quite healthy enough to win football games?
There were two admittedly odd instances during the 2009 season in which an Irish player deferred from playing late in the game-week decision process. Charlie Weis certainly wasn’t happy about either occurrence (he’s on record regarding one).
But its short-changing the current roster to intimate that toughness was born to the group during the 2010 campaign.
They’re FBS college football players. Over a 12-game season, one that contains 20 practice hours per week and approximately 60 major collisions per Saturday, injuries are the sport’s only guarantee.
Prudent or not, playing through them is one of the sport’s fundamental necessities.