Tuesday's SportsNation chat included some discussion about the perceived frequency of concussions in the Green Bay Packers' training camp, including one -- that of tight end Jermichael Finley -- that occurred in a no-contact situation. Finley has since returned to practice, but three other players -- left tackle Marshall Newhouse, receiver Greg Jennings and tight end Ryan Taylor -- aren't expected to play in Thursday night's preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers.
That's relatively high total during the first two weeks of training camp. The question is whether we should view it in the context of the NFL's heightened sensitivity to concussions -- or mere coincidence. After all, it's not the least bit cynical to note that the league is facing a class-action lawsuit from more than 3,000 former players who allege their concussions were not properly handled.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy actually addressed the topic a few hours after our chat, saying the team has improved its rehabilitation procedures for concussions. It appears that one of the bi-products is that players aren't allowed back on the field as quickly as they once were if they report concussion symptoms.
"I wouldn't say there are different guidelines [for diagnosing]," McCarthy said. "I would say the improvement as far as the safety comes in the rehab, is my understanding of it. The process of a player coming in, communicating to the doctor, all that is very similar. But there is an awfully high end of caution once they feel the player is in danger of a concussion or close to a concussion or diagnosed with a concussion. That is clearly my opinion of what I've seen change from prior years to now. The rehab, the timely fashion that you bring an individual back is different probably than in prior years."
Often NFL teams are more cautious in the preseason with injuries, requiring players with muscle pulls or knee sprains to sit out practice longer than they might during the regular season, hoping to minimize the possibility of a long-term issue. I wouldn't view concussions in the same way. If this were Week 1 of the regular season instead of Week 1 of the preseason, it's fair to assume that Newhouse, Jennings and Taylor would not play.
NFL teams have no other choice in this matter, lawsuit or otherwise, and I applaud the Packers for being open about it.
In the end, you hope this means better care and healthier futures for players who have suffered head injuries -- and that it doesn't discourage players with less solid footing on the roster from reporting symptoms. That, I'm afraid, will be an entirely separate sub-issue in 2012. Surely there will be some young players who don't want to risk their standing and sit out an extended time because they might have a concussion. Regardless, we should view this heightened sensitivity as progress.