The injury to Antrel Rolle in yesterday's practice has reminded me of one of the minor things in Coughlin's coaching manual that I find puzzling and slightly annoying. He is constantly chiding the players that are injured about staying on the sidelines. He never comes out directly and says - these guys are slacking off, they're not really injured, they're just using it as a lame excuse to avoid practice. But when he says things like "it's time for these guys that are injured to get going" ... "we have only 9 more practices in camp"... "they've got to get their reps, it's frustrating to see them on the side"... the clear implication is that the players are lazy bums who are avoiding the work required. His team-first approach is important, it has taken hold and it is effective, I'm not complaining about that. You hear players, when they come back to practice from injury saying things like: "I felt like I was letting my teammates down when I was on the sideline and they were working". Give Coughlin credit for impressing the team first approach on his players. But in today's game, there are two dynamics that make it clear that players are not lengthening injury recovery time arbitrarily. First, there are so many talented, athletic players ready to take your spot, and second, more than any other sport, every player is one ordinary play away from being out for the year or ending his career due to serious injury. Players know the risk of losing their jobs, made more impactful in the NFL with non guaranteed contracts. But they know more importantly to protect themselves for the long haul - for the entire season and for their careers. To cajole a player to come back to practice and put himself at risk for returning from injury too soon, and potentially risk a more major injury or even a more serious threat is just plain stupid by the coach. It hearkens back to an era when the coaches ruled with an iron fist; where the coach wanted to wear the players out, 2-a-day practices, denied them water during summer time practices to toughen them up, didn't allow them to wear long sleeves or gloves in freezing cold winter games, etc. It was the coach treating the players like children who needed toughening up and needed a strong hand to help them mature into adults. What nonsense.
When Coughlin first joined the Giants as coach, taking over from Jim Fassell, the Giants locker room had the reputation of being a country club. Fassell ran a loose ship, players were undisciplined, they were out of shape and that led to the myriad of injuries that plagued the Giants during that period. Or so was the theory. Coughlin was intent upon changing the culture. He gave that famous introductory speech about how injuries are a cancer and he's going to stop the flood of injuries by toughening up the players. The implication of course was that the injuries weren't real, that they were just a mental thing and he was going to clean things up as the new sheriff in town. Of all the things Coughlin did, the coming early to meetings, the fines, the dress code etc., if I were a player that "injuries is a state of mind" would have ticked me off the most. Maybe the training regimen could have been better to get players ready and to avoid injury, but once the player is injured, he's injured. A torn ACL or high ankle sprain is not a state of mind. It is an injury and if players don't go for treatment and hide the injury, it gets worse. It's interesting that despite that speech, the string of injuries under Coughlin continued for the Giants, perhaps even worse for a few years. Coughlin made some well publicized changes in his attitude towards the players, including them in a player's council, making them feel like they were part of the team and accountable for their conduct, and the players responded. He also got off his injury soapbox to a point, but judging from his statements that I am referring to here, I guess some old attitudes die hard and this approach to injury is still part of his coaching DNA.
I don't want players to use injuries as an excuse to avoid practice, but they rarely do. Coughlin was prodding Nicks to get back on the practice field implying that he needed the reps with the QB. He's been in the league 4 years already, he knows the playbook and QB, he doesn't need 4 full weeks of training camp to get ready. We saw what Nicks was last year when injured; if there's a choice between avoiding practice to fully heal an injury and stay fresh for the season, versus practicing and developing chemistry with the team and the QB, I'm voting for health every time. Coughlin is a good coach; this is one area where the old-school-coaching attitudes comes to the forefront and win out. A clear victory of emotion over reason.