PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles running back Chris Polk had surgery on his shoulder this week, according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Caplan.
That is worth noting, but bears further exploring because of what it says about the way the Eagles handle injuries in the Chip Kelly era.
Andy Reid famously began every press availability with the same word -- injuries -- followed by an alphabetical recitation of every nick, ding, tear, pull and break on the athletic trainers’ report. For serious injuries, especially when star players were involved, Reid brought head trainer Rick Burkholder in to explain the nature of the injury and the course of treatment.
“Polk has got a shoulder,” he said Oct. 14, the day after Polk was injured in Tampa. “We hope he’s back this week, but I don’t think he’ll be full [go in practice] tomorrow.”
That was all the information Kelly was giving out, which was typical. An injured player has a (fill in body part here). Period. Kelly says he doesn’t want or need in-depth information. The training staff tells him who is available and who isn’t and he proceeds from there.
Polk was inactive for the following week's game against Dallas. Not that big of a deal, except for the roster consequences that followed. The day before the Dallas game, the Eagles added practice squad running back Matthew Tucker to their active roster. To make room, they released cornerback Jordan Poyer, a seventh-round pick in the 2013 draft.
The Cleveland Browns claimed Poyer and he finished the season with them.
Polk was back the following week and active for the rest of the Eagles’ games. He played extensively on special teams. His snap count on offense increased in the final four weeks.
And it turned out he needed surgery on the shoulder.
If that’s the case with Polk, it raises questions about other players. Safety Patrick Chung became the player fans loved to hate for his missed tackles and perceived blown coverages. But Chung “had a shoulder” after the Week 3 loss to Kansas City. He missed two games and then tried to come back too soon, leaving the Tampa Bay game after just 12 defensive snaps.
Chung was inactive the next two weeks before returning for the Oakland game. When rookie Earl Wolff was injured (Wolff “had a knee”) in Green Bay, Chung became the starter again.
Was Chung a free-agent bust who lost his job to a fifth-round pick? Or was Chung a veteran gutting out and playing hurt because the team was desperately thin at safety?
Injury deception affects perception.
Wolff is another example. Reporters managed to ascertain that he hyperextended his knee, but there was never any further explanation. Was anything torn? Sprained? Strained? Was there cartilage damage? A bone bruise?
Wolff also tried to return too soon from his injury. He lasted four snaps in the game against Chicago in Week 16, then didn’t play again. Every day before the playoff game against New Orleans, Wolff would give an awkward update on how he felt and what he was doing to try to be ready. He was inactive on game day.
Was Wolff merely a rookie not sure of the difference between discomfort and injury? Or was he feeling pressure to get back on the field despite a moderately serious knee injury? (Not pressure from head athletic trainer Chris Peduzzi and his staff, mind you. They're very good. But secrecy about the nature of the injury led to constant inquiries from reporters and even some teasing about Wolff getting back on the field.)
Kelly is a long way from being the first coach to keep injury information as limited as possible. Maybe it provides some competitive advantage. But that secrecy can also be a disservice to the players themselves.