Warning ‘Skins Fans: The Attrition Has Begun

Created on Aug. 08, 2013 6:47 AM EST

Football wastes no time reminding its worshippers and participants that it is a collision sport — one that human bones and soft tissue haven’t evolved sufficiently to play long-term. The modern game also regularly introduces the elephant in professional sports and SEC football locker rooms, doctor’s offices or home medicine cabinets: the usage of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) or its more generic cousin … “banned substances.”

I know; that was a cheap shot at the SEC, right?

Brief Off-ramp

If I may offer a few tangential comments regarding the superhero cocktails, you have to love how differently football and baseball portray the PED culture (and I’m not talking about the public’s or the respective league’s tolerance double-standard). MLB has BALCO and Biogenesis: tangible, cloak and dagger juice joints conveying a certain level of sophistication. In football, PED use is presented in a far more casual, even haphazard manner. Explanations for positive tests include epic stuff: “it was an un-labeled substance in my supplement,” “Hey, I got my stuff from GNC” or “I popped some un-prescribed pain meds in my medicine cabinet to alleviate a toothache” (literally the excuse used by suspended ‘Skins LB Rob Jackson).

Baseball’s lab rats sound like members of organized crime. Football’s rule benders sound like a teenager mumbling through an awkward explanation of their last thoughtless transgression. In a word, “whoops”; or in a Mayberry-worthy expression, “aw shucks.”

But I digress.

Losing Assets

Regarding football’s collisions and pill popping, the game’s inherent violence and its participants’ desperate search for an edge have already coalesced just a few weeks into training camp to reintroduce a dominant factor in determining the NFL’s yearly champion: attrition. The “starting 22” of every team lasts about one practice (if that). Just a few weeks into training camp, illegal substances have shortened several players’ season and football’s assault on the human body has claimed Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin, Seattle’s Percy Harvin, Baltimore’s Dennis Pitta and Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson and Brian Bulaga, among others. 

The Washington Redskins haven’t been as unfortunate as the Philadelphia Eagles or Green Bay Packers to date, but their roster has certainly absorbed its share of losses. Reserve OLB Rob Jackson and starting DE Jarvis Jenkins will start their seasons a month after everyone else, courtesy of positive tests for banned substances and the accompanying four-game suspension. DE Adam Carriker is out indefinitely after another surgery on a quadriceps muscle that he injured in the second game last season. And reserve ILB Keenan Robinson channeled his inner Brian Orakpo (a fellow University of Texas product) and tore a pectoral muscle — he’ll spend the year on injured reserve.

Texas: great for steaks and under-achieving pro football teams, bad for pecs.

Assessing The Missing Parts

The ‘Skins defense, particularly the front seven, was decimated by injuries (Carriker, Orakpo and Brandon Meriweather) and suspensions (Tanard Jackson) last year. Conventional wisdom invited the notion that 2013 would be different and that, fully armed, the defense would be the unit to take a step forward (it was 28th overall in 2012) and catapult Washington into contention. That dream started to erode in March with Jackson’s suspension and is in danger of completely disintegrating after Robinson, Jenkins and Carriker all succumbed to their “ailments” during the first two weeks of camp.

With four defenders on ice, hard times certainly await.

Robert Griffin III’s comeback is moot, defensive coordinator Jim Haslet will soon be unemployed and the ‘Skins defense will be an elixir for struggling fantasy football studs. The prognosis isn’t that bad, but losing two defensive starters and a couple of key reserves slated for considerable playing time even before the first preseason game isn’t ideal.

What is the impact? Well, there’s the obvious: The lack of depth will increase reps for those remaining in the defensive rotation — a scenario that could contribute to in-game fatigue and degraded play — especially early in the season when guys are still finding their football legs.

From a player-by-player standpoint, Jenkins’ absence will leave the biggest individual void. The third-year defensive end from Clemson, now two-years removed from ACL surgery, is (or was) the incumbent ‘Skins defensive player with the most untapped potential. Jenkins taking big leap forward was a primary component in any formula predicting a measurable defensive improvement.

Will he reach his ceiling in 2013? Thanks to a wayward GNC supplement (allegedly), stand by … until October.

In all, the ‘Skins defense should be able to manage the personnel deficiencies. DEs Stephen Bowen and Kedric Golston are adequate starters. Chris Baker can play the nose or at defensive end and a couple of sneaky offseason acquisitions on the defensive line — former second-round picks Phillip Merling (Miami, 2008) and Rob Brace (New England, 2009) — could prove to be shrewd moves.

The recent signing of veteran ILB Nick Barnett backfills Robinson’s loss and provides a veteran option behind starters London Fletcher and Perry Riley. The early schedule also appears manageable: home dates with Philadelphia and Detroit and road games against Green Bay and Oakland isn’t exactly a brutal stretch by NFL standards. Jackson and Jenkins would then return, presuming no further forays into the world of mysterious supplements or random painkillers, on October 13th after a Week 5 bye.

Of course that “mostly sunny” forecast assumes no further injuries and an NFL roster is never stagnant. It’s not as if teams receive a maximum number of injuries or suspensions from the football gods and are spared any further penance. In the NFL, double, triple and insert-any-exponential-factor jeopardy is fair game. An injury to Orakpo or Ryan Kerrigan or another insult to the defensive front and the unit could unravel … again.

Such is life in “The League”: a place where excuses fall on deaf ears, sympathy is non-existent and titles are often won as much by the proficiency of the “next man up” as a team’s stars.

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