NASHVILLE – Less than a month into the 2021 NFL season, some of the Tennessee Titans’ best players – A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Bud Dupree and Taylor Lewan – have already spent time on the injury list.
Lewan sat out Week 2, while Dupree will miss his second straight game this week. Brown and Jones left last Sunday’s contest early and have already been ruled out for this Sunday.
All of them also missed significant chunks of time during training camp and the preseason while they recovered from injuries sustained last season.
So, a couple questions come to mind, the kind that can only be properly answered with perfectly clear 20/20 hindsight: Did the Titans push the players back to game action too quickly? And even if the time was right to return to games, did the players wind up playing too many snaps?
Wide receivers coach Rob Moore referenced the issue earlier this week when he mentioned that he probably played Jones and Brown a little too much in the season opener. Their snap totals actually took a big jump in Week 2, when Jones logged 78 and Brown 74 against Seattle.
Head coach Mike Vrabel said he’s ultimately in charge of player rotation, but usually advises his assistants during the week if he wants to limit the snaps of certain players.
Friday, Vrabel was asked about the possibility injured players had returned to the lineup – or returned to heavy snap rotation – too early, leading to further injury. Lewan and Dupree are in the process of recovering from ACL surgeries last year, while Jones and Brown are dealing with hamstring issues. Rookie cornerback Caleb Farley is another player who is once again injured after missing much of the offseason. But Farley’s issue now is a shoulder, as opposed to the back surgery he had been working his way back from in training camp.
“We always try and follow a plan,” Vrabel said. “We don’t have the luxury of hindsight. We have to use the information that we are given from the player, from the doctor, and how they feel. Sometimes people respond differently to that work.”
He added that extensive work by doctors, trainers, players and coaches goes into recovery plans.
“We take the health of the team very seriously, we want to try and get everybody back and as healthy as possible,” Vrabel said. “There is a fine line between getting them out there and then maybe holding them (out) too long.
“Everybody has a plan. We spend a lot of time on it -- how much work they are getting, whether they are practicing or how much work they get in on the side. What their conditioning level is. What their fatigue level is. Do things get tired quicker as they are working their way back?
“There are a lot of things that we go through. It is never going to be perfect. You are never going to be able to predict every single return-to-play protocol. I feel like we have done pretty well. We will just have to continue to work on it and try to make sure that we get everybody that is here available as quickly as possible to go out there and help.”
Is it possible, Vrabel was asked, that some of the team’s return-to-play plans for players were off?
“No, I don’t think so,” Vrabel said. “You guys can write about hindsight all you want. Injuries and recovering from injuries are part of this game and how we do it.”