Injuries happen all the time — it is football, after all. However, the Eagles have been experiencing them at an alarming rate. For the third straight season, they’re seeing some of their best players go down due to injury.

The Eagles entered the 2019 season healthy, for the most part, and looked to finally put their injury woes behind them. Instead, a frustrating trend of bad luck and potential mismanagement is continuing them down a path the team is all too familiar with.

The nature of these problems dates back to the 2017 season. The Eagles lost both Darren Sproles (torn ACL and broken arm) and Jason Peters (torn ACL and MCL) for the season in the opening weeks. Then, after an MVP-caliber season, Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending ACL and LCL tear. Along with them, key players such as Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Graham played through significant injuries during the season.

It’s not uncommon for players to suffer major injuries, and the Eagles were fairly healthy outside of that, but the team’s response to that is where these problems culminate even more.

In an unprecedented move coming off of a Super Bowl victory, the Eagles changed course in their medical staff, firing head physician and orthopedist Peter DeLuca and internist Gary Dorshimer. The Eagles also brought in Jerome Reid to be the team’s trainer after Chris Peduzzi, who had been with the team for 19 years, retired.

From the outside, it’s easy to see those moves and wonder what the big deal is. However, the impacts of these changes have ramifications that some don’t even consider. For players like Jeffery and Graham, who were in the middle of recoveries following rigorous surgeries, the change in staff ultimately could have affected their recoveries.

Each orthopedist has specific tendencies and preferences in terms of how rehab is handled, along with the timeline of recovery. That means in the middle of these players recoveries, they likely had a change in how their injuries were treated. For better or for worse, that can bring some unwarranted doubt to these players that are banking getting back on the field as soon as possible.

Regardless, the change happened, and the Eagles saw all of their players coming off surgeries return to the field in a fairly timely fashion. However, the issues were far from over. The most notable case if the obvious misuse of Sproles.

Coming off a torn ACL, it’s best to ease a player into a full workload. Instead, without playing at all in the preseason and being limited for the majority of training camp, the Eagles rolled out Sproles, using him with a very similar workload that he normally would get.

In the 2018 season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, Sproles had five carries for 10 yards and added four receptions on seven targets for 22 yards. Sproles also had three punt returns, which he took for 29 yards. Sproles looked healthy, even with the uneven production. However, as is typically the case for a player coming off a major knee injury, Sproles quickly began experiencing some soft tissue difficulties.

Sproles developed a hamstring injury, which can directly be connected to his knee not being 100%. This is almost guaranteed to be the fault of Sproles’ workload, but Doug Pederson wouldn’t have used him like that unless the training staff OK’d him on it. After improperly clearing Sproles for too much work, he was forced to miss 11 games, including a setback halfway through his recovery.

And of course, Sproles was far from the only Eagle to get injured. Here are just some of the many injuries players on the Eagles suffered: Carson Wentz (back), Jay Ajayi (back and torn ACL), Corey Clement (quadriceps, knee), Derek Barnett (torn rotator cuff), Jalen Mills (lisfranc injury), Ronald Darby (torn ACL), Mike Wallace (broken leg), and Mack Hollins (hernia and groin).

It was an overwhelming 2018 season in terms of injuries, and they certainly were a noticeable part in the team falling short of appearing in consecutive Super Bowls. Once again, thanks to the slew of injuries, the Eagles made an even more unprecedented move: the changed medical staffs for the second-straight season.

The Eagles hired Arsh Dhanota to serve as the teams Chief Medical Officer, which was a newly-created position and fired head team physician Stephen A. Stache, who replaced DeLuca the year prior. It’s best for a team to get continuity in their medical staff for the sake of developing trust among the players, but instead, the Eagles moved on to their third medical staff in three years.

However, the hope was it would finally bring the fix that was needed to allow the team to stay as healthy as possible. While for a good period of time that seemed to be the case, we’re now seeing early on in the 2019 season that the change hasn’t helped.

In the preseason, the Eagles lost Cre’Von LeBlanc (lisfranc injury) and Kamu Gruger-Hill (torn MCL), two of the team’s most promising young players, for at least a month. Also during the preseason, Mills, who in December was viewed as “week-to-week”, was placed on the PUP list, which will hold him out until at least week 6. Despite that, optimism tried to prevail, with the team having most of their starters ready to go, including Brandon Brooks, who had suffered a torn Achilles just 8 months prior.

Over the first two weeks, that optimism has quickly turned to yet another period of concern. Top free-agent acquisition Malik Jackson was lost for the season due to a lisfranc injury — the third time a player on the team has suffered this specific injury, which is an unusual rate. Another defensive tackle, Tim Jernigan, will miss up to 6 weeks after breaking his foot. Dallas Goedert dealt with a calf injury — another soft tissue injury — during the majority of the preseason, and the injury flared up again during pregame warmups prior to the teams Week 2 game against the Atlanta Falcons. Both DeSean Jackson and Jeffery suffered soft tissue injuries early on in the Falcons game as well, and their statuses for the next few weeks are in doubt. Along with that, Darby, who is 10 months post-ACL reconstruction surgery, looks far from 100% on the field.

The Eagles look suddenly banged up in just the opening weeks of the season, and the drastic efforts made through the constant changing of medical staffs has yet to pay off. Without being in the room at all times, it’s hard to pinpoint just where the Eagles are going wrong, but there is a clear health problem on their hands.

Some of the structural injuries, such as broken bones or torn ligaments, are fairly unavoidable, but the soft tissue injuries can be directly correlated towards the handling of these players. Between proper stretching regiments, guided workloads and nutrition, these injuries can be stopped well before they even develop. Instead, the trend of nagging injuries that can sideline players for weeks — and ultimately derail championship hopes — is continuing.

What’s even more interesting is that these health issues have increased as the Eagles have begun using tracking technology more and more. Dating back to the Chip Kelly era in 2014, the Eagles began using Radio-Frequency Identification, or RIFD, to help monitor the statuses of both the healthy and the injured.

The Eagles have used these devices by attaching them to the players’ uniforms in an effort to spot fatigue, and also how certain parts of the body are functioning. While this sounds like a brilliant plan, it almost seems as if this has begun to backfire. This technology was vital in Carson Wentz’s recovery after his torn ACL and LCL, but it failed to detect abnormalities in the strength of his back. Similarly, with Sproles, it showed he was fully ready to go when in reality, he wasn’t.

While it is early on in the season for players suffering from soft tissue injuries such as Jeffery, Jackson, and Goedert, all three have injuries that can flare up at any time if they aren’t treated correctly. Even worse, the Eagles are soon approaching by far their most difficult part of the season.

In just three weeks, starting on October 13, the Eagles will have the following games: @ Minnesota, @ Buffalo, @ Dallas, vs Chicago, vs New England, and vs Seattle. All six teams are more than capable, and if the Eagles aren’t at full strength for those games, they are risking having their entire season defined by that one stretch. At the same time, though, the Eagles can’t rush back any of their players without risking them missing even more time.


It’s a very difficult predicament the Eagles have found themselves in, but they are at least in part to blame. In a time where the team is supposed to be focused on winning games and fixing their problems on the field, they need to get to the bottom of what’s forcing some of their best players to stay off the field.

Photo: Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer

 

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