The 2020 NFL season was riddled with injuries. Players like Christian McCaffrey, Michael Thomas, Joe Mixon, Saquon Barkley, George Kittle, Austin Ekeler, and Dak Prescott all missed significant time last season due to injury. We don’t know the exact cause of all these injuries, but there is one factor that many theorize could have been the problem — the absence of training camp and the preseason.
According to Dr. Lyle Cain, an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at the Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center in Alabama, the lack of a preseason likely played a major role in the amount of injuries we saw in 2020:
“When COVID first started in March, April, May most of us were worried about soft-tissue injuries — hamstrings, Achilles, and things like that, where you have to have a certain amount of elasticity built up to be able to handle really quick explosive movements.”
Soft-tissue injuries were everywhere in the first half of the 2020 season. Through the season’s first eight weeks, there were 15 Achilles-related injuries. To put that in perspective, from 2009 to 2016, there were 101 Achilles tendon ruptures total and 64 percent of those came in training camp or the preseason. To put it bluntly, no preseason means a greater likelihood of soft-tissue injury. So, given those numbers, with the Cowboys slated to participate in the first game of the season — September 9 against the reigning Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Mike McCarthy’s plan to likely hold Dak Prescott out of all preseason games seems questionable at best.
Over the last calendar year, Prescott has suffered a season-ending ankle injury, signed a six-year extension, and experienced a shoulder strain. With all the recovery Prescott has had to endure coupled with the cautious approach the team seems to be taking with him, Prescott has seen minimal time participating in OTAs and training camp in a full capacity ahead of the 2021 season. That could be a huge problem moving forward, as Dr. Cain put it: “You have to have a certain amount of elasticity built up to be able to handle really quick explosive movements.”
I understand playing it safe with your franchise quarterback. After all, the Cowboys’ offense looked atrocious without Prescott at the helm in 2020. However, given what we’ve seen in the last year and a half, it would probably make sense to at least somewhat include Prescott in the team’s preseason training regimens. Whether it be by giving Prescott a few snaps in one or two preseason games, or having Prescott participate fully in the last few weeks of Cowboys training camp, it is Dallas’s duty to prepare Prescott’s body for game action.
Obviously, I am not in the Cowboys’ training facilities and recovery rooms. I do not have a full understanding of what the Cowboys are currently doing with Prescott. If the Cowboys’ medical team is in fact working with Prescott on his movement but just not putting him in pads and having him line up in 7-on-7 walkthroughs, I can understand the team’s decision to “play it cautiously” with him. However, I have seen zero reports of that being the case, and, in fact, plenty to the contrary. Prescott has talked about all the rehab he’s gone through, but rehab normally deals with recovery, not building up tendon strength for explosive movements.
Nobody wants to see Dak Prescott leave a game on a stretcher again. Ever. Even worse, nobody wants to see Prescott’s season end before the regular season has even started. That being said, studies show (remember those 101 Achilles’ ruptures?) that participating in just a few game-type situations plays a major factor in long-term soft-tissue health. I get that the Cowboys don’t want to risk an injury to their starting quarterback in a preseason game, but please, at least give him some first-team reps in practice during the weeks leading up to Week 1. It’ll only help him.