Newsflash: All NFL players are tough

Bob Sanders' injury-plagued career has made him an easy target for fans and media. Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Pure ignorance. That's what comes to mind every time I hear a fan or media type criticize an NFL player for being either injury-prone or unable to play in a particular game. Those people are way off base and have no concept of the amount of pain and types of injuries that NFL players play with on a weekly basis.

With a few rare exceptions, most NFL players do everything they possibly can to play each week, and as long as their bodies allow them to function competently, they will be out there because that is what they are paid to do.

I don't have a problem with fans expressing disappointment or frustration when an injury-prone player like the Indianapolis Colts' Bob Sanders or Anthony Gonzalez goes down. That's natural and understandable. But to criticize the players because their bodies break down on them is unfair. It is not a player's fault that he may not have been built to hold up to the rigors of pro football.

Most fans wouldn't believe what guys play through. If a player is listed as questionable on the injury report, my guess is that most normal people wouldn't even go to work at their desk jobs that week with the same injury. If a guy is considered doubtful, I would consider it highly unlikely that a laborer with the same ailment would be able to perform his or her on-site duties for up to a month or more. Heck, I played with a herniated disk in my back the last four weeks of the 2004 season that was so bad I needed my wife to tie my shoelaces in the morning and a lot of medicinal aids to perform on Sunday, and I wasn't even on the injury report.

My point is every single NFL player is tough. You have to be tough to get through training camp and then the grueling regular season. Are there varying levels of toughness? Sure, but that goes for anything in life. Keep that in mind the next time you want to rip a guy because he doesn't play on Sunday. I'm not asking for sympathy, just respect.

QBs can compensate

Speaking of injuries, San Diego, Indianapolis, Green Bay and even New England have overcome a rash of them to stay in the thick of the playoff hunt.

Most people don't even mention the Patriots among the teams that have lost a number of players. That's because the Patriots never even talk about the players who aren't available to them on the field, and as such people tend to forget about it. Secondly, two of the guys they lost, defensive end Ty Warren and cornerback Leigh Bodden, were both placed on injured reserve before the season even started. Yet the fact that the Patriots got off to a 7-2 start without four of their 10 best players -- if you include the Kevin Faulk injury in Week 2 and the long absence of Logan Mankins -- is mighty impressive.

The common denominator for all of these teams, Patriots included, is the quarterback. The Colts' Peyton Manning has found a way to move the football and score points on a weekly basis even though injuries to the likes of Dallas Clark, Austin Collie and Joseph Addai have forced him to hand off and throw the ball to players most of us have never even heard of.

The Chargers' Philip Rivers is on a record-breaking pace even though he has played a lot of games short-handed, like his Week 9 victory over the Houston Texans in which he was missing Malcolm Floyd, Antonio Gates and Legedu Naanee, not to mention Vincent Jackson, who is still not eligible to play.

The most impressive thing about the Packers is not just that Aaron Rodgers and the offense have been able to overcome the season-ending injuries to Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley, but that the defense has held up surprisingly well despite losing its fair share of contributors.

Seems to me, the difference between a team that uses injuries as a crutch and a team that refuses to do so is the man behind center.

From the inbox

Q: If they are going to go with an 18-game season, will they be looking at making a few more roster spots available? And is there a downside to giving each team, say, five more players?

Jeff from San Antonio

A: There will almost certainly be an increase in the roster size if the NFL's "enhanced season" concept comes to fruition. Chris Mortensen reported on Monday night that the league's initial proposal included one additional roster spot while the NFLPA sent back a counterproposal that wanted three or four additional roster spots. The downside exists only for owners because more roster spots means more money and it is not just the salary. Benefits, health insurance, etc. need to be factored in as well when calculating the increased cost.

Q: As a former lineman, what are your thoughts on Jake Long? Do you see Hall of Fame potential?

Benny from Los Angeles

A: I'm a big of the Dolphins offensive tackle and have been thoroughly impressed with his improvement the past three years, especially in pass protection. It is clear that he takes his craft seriously and has been working diligently to get better. The great ones always do. Whether or not he can play well or at all with this shoulder injury, however, remains to be seen.

Q: Do you believe there are any players who believe the NFL is so violent their lives are in danger? How popular do you think the NFL will be if a player ends up dying on the field after taking a vicious hit? Also, from a legal point of view, should a player die, I am 100 percent sure that his family will be able to sue the NFL simply because the NFL has taken ineffective action to limit life-threatening injuries.

David from Cape Town, South Africa

A: I don't know if players think about dying per se, but they are absolutely keenly aware of the possibility of incurring some type of life-altering permanent injury on the field. I know that is the only thing I prayed about before games, to not suffer one of those catastrophic injuries. I don't agree, however, that the NFL is liable in such an instance because I believe the league has taken strides and continues to take steps to make the game safer, possibly because it knows there is the potential for legal action if it doesn't show a demonstrated history of improving working conditions.

Q: Do you think that the NFL will ever take a look at adopting a replay policy more similar to that of college football?

Justin from Reading, Pa.

A: An e-mailer from my hometown, awesome! I think the league has and will continue to talk about doing so. It seems to me that the college system is much more efficient than the NFL's, which features coaches' challenges. I guess having the coaches' challenges adds intrigue and another level of strategy to the game, but I think it is pretty easy for a guy up in the box to decide whether or not a play is questionable and worthy of a second look.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams during his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.