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Browns will look at soft tissue injuries to determine if any were preventable this season

Type of injury on the rise across the NFL
Cardinals Browns Football
Posted at 1:30 PM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-10 13:31:42-05

BEREA, Ohio — The 2021 season was not what anyone expected for the Cleveland Browns, with the season kicking off with Super Bowl contender discussions and ending for all intents and purposes a week before their final game when they were eliminated from playoff contention. There were plenty of issues that led to the disappointing season, and the Browns will look to correct the mistakes they made this year—and one area the Browns are looking at is the rash of injuries suffered throughout the course of the season.

While the Browns were overcoming their own growing pains on defense, working through the contact injury that hindered their starting quarterback, and navigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team also saw some players go down with non-contact injuries.

The 2021 Browns
This season, there have been numerous players listed on injury reports, sidelined from games, and in the worst-case scenarios placed on injured reserve, with soft tissue injuries. Noting five common soft tissue injuries—groin, hamstring, knee, ankle and calf injuries—here are Browns players who have appeared on an injury report this preseason and regular season:

Injuries are inevitable in a sport like football, and many of the injuries listed on the reports each week are in-game, freak incidents. It would be impossible to avoid any injury, not only because of the extreme contact, but the strain the sport puts on muscles and joints. From cutting on a run, to sprinting down a sideline to shifting weight on a block—players' bodies get pushed to the max.

But, some injuries that happen in the preseason, and even as the year goes on, have the possibility of being avoided by training, conditioning and other preventative measures.

Soft tissue injuries on the rise throughout league
Just before the 2021 season began, the NFL released information indicating soft tissue injuries were on the rise.

The incidence of soft tissue injuries, including calf, hamstring, quadricep and adductor strains, are significantly up during the 2021 preseason compared to 2015-2019. As the NFL continues to use injury data to drive health and safety progress, new efforts are underway to address lower extremity injuries, which remain the highest driver of missed days.

During the summer, the NFL's Scientific Advisory Board budgeted $4 million to a team of researchers to investigate the prevention and treatment of hamstring injuries—the most common injury among NFL players and the injury that sidelines players the most, with 75% of hamstring injuries resulting in missed time.

Players across the league, including on the Browns, were provided materials to help them prepare for training camp this season regarding soft tissue injuries with the following five strategies outlined to each member of the 32 NFL clubs.

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically for the demands of training camp- Well developed physical qualities such as aerobic endurance, strength, power, and ability to perform repeated sprints are key to reducing your risk of injury.

2. It's easier to stay in shape than to get back into shape- Taking a break from training completely or simply decreasing the volume and intensity of activities will require a longer, more progressive return to training to get back to your original level of fitness.

3. Gradually increase volume and intensity- Of your high speed running and position-specific conditioning. Rapid increases significantly increase the risk of a non-contact soft tissue injury.

4. Incorporate high-speed running and eccentric weight training- These exercises have been shown to reduce soft tissue injury risk.

5. Pay close attention to your sleep, nutrition, hydration, body weight, body fat, level of physical fitness- These factors will allow you to train optimally and recover adequately, reducing your risk of injury.

Coaches and training staff were also provided materials to help reduce soft tissue injuries during training camp, including tips for designing practices that incorporated gradual increases in duration and intensity of practices and monitoring player workloads.

Throughout the season, the Browns have implemented a practice strategy of rest days for players, as well as individual side work with trainers for players working through any kind of playable injury.

What comes next
While the Browns have had a rash of soft tissue injuries this season, it's not yet clear exactly how many, if any, of those injuries could have been prevented with a different approach to training and conditioning. That data will be poured over by the organization, the league and the NFLPA when it is released.

“We usually get the league-wide injury data a month or two after the season. We always pour through that to see what has gone on and what it looks like," NFLPA President and Browns center JC Tretter said.

The NFLPA leader wouldn't get too detailed about the issue as it relates to the Browns without seeing the data first, but he said that the union and the league have been discussing the issue for two years and will continue to do so this offseason.

"There are always things league-wide we can improve on. That's been a discussion for the last two years now when we talk about how we handle training camp and how we handle the offseason. I'm sure those discussions will continue," Tretter said.

Tretter said that while there could be things that get adjusted to prevent injuries, that fact remains to be seen for the Browns, and he said sometimes, even when all of the measures are in place to prevent the injuries, they still are unavoidable.

"Sometimes I think the easiest way to describe it is you can have all of the safety measures in a car, and you can do everything the right way, and when you get in an accident, it doesn't mean you won't get hurt, and it doesn't mean bad things aren't going to happen. You just give yourself a high likelihood of it not happening by doing the right things and being as safe as possible. Sometimes, you just get the short end of the stick, but I would rather look through all of the data first before making any claims to see exactly what went on and what the injury rate was depending on what the injury is.”

Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said addressing the issue of soft tissue injury is something he, the team, and the organization will look at heading into the offseason, hoping to prevent more injuries from impacting them come 2022.

“We are absolutely going to look at that, and we do want to prevent the ones that you can prevent. Like you mentioned, sometimes as we know in this game, those muscle injuries do occur, but if there are any that we can prevent due to whatever in our operation or things that we do, we are going to absolutely look at that,” Stefanski said.

Post-season advice
Safety John Johnson III, a vocal leader on the team, discussed some of the ways he felt the team could improve the soft tissue injuries next season during his end-of-season exit interview.

Johnson said that the biggest area to address for him personally was being proactive about his body and implementing measures into the training and conditioning work to focus on that.

"I don't know the logistics of how to do these things, that's something like Chavis [Cook, Coordinator, Team Logistics] and the guys have to get it, but I think we can get a yoga instructor in here to work on our flexibility," Johnson suggested.

Another area Johnson would like to see improved upon is the individual relationships players have with trainers, helping them understand each player's needs more specifically and perhaps be better equipped to address training and routine advice in regards to preventing injuries.

"I think our relationship with the training staff could be a whole lot better, just like mobility. Just staying proactive about getting guys in there that probably usually wouldn't until they're hurt," Johnson said. "just try to implement a plan for each individual player on a team. I think that goes a long way."

Johnson said he would like to see a bigger emphasis placed on sports science when it comes to the Browns' training staff as well and that the suggestions he made were just a starting point as they aim to have a better 2022 season.

"I think sport science is huge. Just like doing vision training, hand-eye coordination, balance, I think all that stuff plays a big part in staying healthy and just being overall a better team," Johnson said. "So that's what I shared. And you know, there's a couple of other things, but I think that's something that we could just do better. Just starting with today."

Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.

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BROWNS 2021 SCHEDULE

Preseason

WEEK 1 · W · Sat 8/14 · 7:00 PM at Jacksonville Jaguars (23-13)
WEEK 2 · W · Sun 8/22 · 1:00 PM vs. New York Giants (17-13)
WEEK 3 · W · Sun 8/29 · 8:00 PM at Atlanta Falcons (19-10)

Regular Season

WEEK 1 · L ·Sun 9/12 · 4:25 PM EST at Kansas City Chiefs (33-29)

WEEK 2 · W · Thu 9/19 · 1:00 PM EST Houston Texans (31-21)

WEEK 3 · W · Sun 9/26 · 1:00 PM EST Chicago Bears (26-6)

WEEK 4 · W · Sun 10/3 · 1:00 PM EST at Minnesota Vikings (14-7)

WEEK 5 · L· Sun 10/10 · 4:05 PM EST at Los Angeles Chargers (47-42)

WEEK 6 · L· Sun 10/17 · 4:05 PM EST Arizona Cardinals (37-14)

WEEK 7 · W · Thu 10/21 · 8:20 PM EST Denver Broncos (17-14)

WEEK 8 · L · Sun 10/31 · 1:00 PM EST Pittsburgh Steelers (15-10)

WEEK 9 · W · Sun 11/7 · 1:00 PM EST at Cincinnati Bengals (41-16)

WEEK 10 · L · Sun 11/14 · 1:00 PM EST at New England Patriots (45-7)

WEEK 11 · W · Sun 11/21 · 1:00 PM EST Detroit Lions (13-10)

WEEK 12 · L · Sun 11/28 · 8:20 PM EST at Baltimore Ravens (16-10)

WEEK 13 · BYE

WEEK 14 · W · Mon 12/12 · 1:00 PM EST Baltimore Ravens (24-22)

WEEK 15 · L · Mon Dec. 20 · 5:00 PM Las Vegas Raiders (16-14)

WEEK 16 · L · Sat 12/25 · 4:30 PM at Green Bay Packers (24-22)

WEEK 17 · L · Mon 1/3 · 8:15 PM EST at Pittsburgh Steelers (26-14)

WEEK 18 · Sun 1/9 · 1:00 PM EST Cincinnati Bengals (CBS)