Mailbag: Preventing injuries on offensive line

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Steve from Ukiah, Calif., writes: Mike, love the blog. Best source of info on the NFC West that's out there. The loss of Joe Staley seriously hurts the 49ers' [chances] for even modest success. In fact, losing any starting lineman for a team could have that impact and it seems as if the guys in the trenches are always getting hurt. If you watch most college games, the entire o offensive line is on the field with braces on each knee. Seems to me like this is a preventative measure to avoid injuries and seems like a great idea. If the league and the teams are concerned with player safety, why not require lineman to wear braces and try and prevent some of these serious knee injuries?

Mike Sando: Thanks for the support, Steve. I think there's conflicting information about how much knee braces help as a preventative measure, particularly for players who have not suffered knee injuries previously. I asked Jason Smith of the Rams about the subject when I spoke with him at Rams training camp. He was wearing braces on both knees. He said it was something he did in college and wanted to continue in the pros, just to be safe. He then missed time with a sprained knee this season. Did the brace prevent more serious injury? Tough to say.

I've found a couple of studies online -- one here and an earlier one here -- discussing this matter. The former link included this statement regarding knee braces worn at the amateur level: "There has been controversy regarding whether knee braces prevent injury. Some researchers have found that knee braces can prevent injury, while others have not or have found increased injuries with knee braces. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) reports that although prophylactic knee braces have not been shown to be effective in preventing injury, rehabilitative knee braces for individuals who have already had knee injuries have been proven effective. The AAOS further recommended that muscle strengthening and conditioning programs and well-groomed grass athletic fields are better prevention measures for knee injuries than prophylactic braces."

This might be a subject to investigate further. Staley had never missed a snap until this season. I'll ask around.

Jeff from Ellensburg, Wash., writes: Sando, what is your take on the Seahawks in the long term? During the Mike Holmgren era, the Seahawks were an above average team. They consistently made the playoffs but were never able to attain elite status. As that era has come to an end, we are left with many aging players who are injury prone. I just don't see how a few drafts could remedy what ails the Seahawks. Despite the doom and gloom tone here, I know the Hawks do have potential in their young starters. I just wonder if it is going to be a long road back to top of the NFC West. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: The Seahawks can compete for the NFC West title quickly if they can fix their offensive line and find ways to replace what Patrick Kerney provided a couple of years ago. Matt Hasselbeck seems to have conquered the back issues that bothered him last season. Those can come and go, so there's always a risk for recurrence, but that part of him has held up better than I would have anticipated. He could conceivably have a couple of more good seasons left -- if only Seattle could protect him. Fixing the offensive line would also help the running game and take pressure off the defense.

Jeff from Toronto writes: Do you think the Seahawks should have kept Julian Peterson instead of Leroy Hill? Hill is very injury prone and Peterson would have been a better mentor for Curry. I know Hill has a lot more upside considering the age difference. But what do you think here?

Mike Sando: I would generally favor sticking with the younger player. I thought that move was OK once the Seahawks were able to draft Aaron Curry. Peterson's best days are behind him. His absence hasn't affected the Seahawks negatively this season, in my view.

Dan from Memphis writes: Hello, Mike! I really value your feedback and updates on the Seattle RB situation, as I know you were a former team reporter. I know back in mid-October you predicted Forsett's role in the running game to increase ... and have noted how he's one of the best pass blockers in the league. Mora recently hinted that he wanted to see what Louis Rankin could do on the field, and you have also alluded that Rankin would get the RB backup duties. Officially, Forsett is listed second on the chart. My question: Who do you think has more potential to take over the lead RB job over Julius Jones (I have been less than impressed, and I expect Jim Mora to shake things up). Rankin or Forsett? How do you see it playing out this week, and going forward? I really value your opinion, and hope you have a second to drop me a line. Thanks!

Mike Sando: Thanks, Dan. I said Forsett had arguably become the best pass-protector among the Seahawks' running backs, not in the league. Previously I questioned his suitability to carry the ball regularly in the base offense. Though quick, he is small and slow based on NFL standards for the position. I would not expect Rankin to threaten Forsett directly. Rankin is replacing Edgerrin James in the rotation.

Jones' production has fallen dramatically since the Seahawks' issues on the offensive line have become more troublesome, but Forsett fumbled on his only carry against the Cowboys. I see no reason to suddenly change starters at running back. The Seahawks could use a more dynamic back in the future, but right now, they need more from their offensive line, particularly in pass protection.

Raymond from Tacoma writes: Hey, Mike, I'm a huge fan of your blog. I check it every day and read everything you have to say about the Seahawks. I was just wondering, with our two first-round picks, at this point in the season, who would fit our scheme/needs the best right now? Also, who are some interesting offensive line free agents that the Seahawks might be interested in?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Raymond. I'm planning on speaking with Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. about which college prospects might fit with NFC West teams, based on what we know about those players and the teams' needs. I'll pass along the results of that conversation. Drafting an offensive tackle would certainly make sense. I do not see how the Seahawks could avoid making such a selection. They will of course want to monitor the available quarterbacks. In free agency, the Patriots' Logan Mankins could be available. The Chargers' Marcus McNeill could be available. The Saints will presumably re-sign Jahri Evans. The Eagles' Winston Justice could be available.

Road Dog from Sacramento writes: Your chat transcripts are fun to read, but if most of your fans are like me -- only interested in "their" team from the division -- then either organizing the transcript questions by team or using the same icons you use on your main NFC West to delineate teams would really make reading about your favorite team easier. Keep up the good work. It's really amazing to have such access these days.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Dog. I'm sure that type of functionality is a consideration as we try to improve the experience on the site. Perhaps I need to do a better job making information about each team seem more relevant to fans of other teams. That is a priority and something I accomplish at least some of the time. You can also click on one of the team names in the tags on the blog. You could then visit the corresponding address.

John from Lubbock, Texas, writes: Even though he's only played two games so far, is anyone still thinking that Darius Haywood-Bey was the better pick than Michael Crabtree? I realize that Crabtree was involved in an interception and also had a fumble, but it's clear to me that he's made more of an impact than DHB through eight games. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: There's no doubt Crabtree has been better to this point. He's produced more in one game than Heyward-Bey has produced this season.