KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Todd Haley notoriously treated August with kid gloves. Given a choice, Romeo Crennel preferred to swaddle his guys in bubble wrap.
September 2012: 1-3.
September 2011: 0-3.
September 2010: 3-0.
September 2009: 0-3.
Let’s see: The Kansas City Chiefs are a combined 1-6 in the first month since 2011. They’ve averaged one win in September since 2009.
So maybe Andy Reid is onto something with this whole hard-contact-in-the-preseason thing. Ya think?
“Well, listen, we play. We come out and do what we do,” the new Chiefs coach told reporters Monday at training camp. “We don’t worry about all that other stuff.”
That pinging sound in your email inbox Monday was the mad rush of news reports (and the even madder rush of reactions to the news reports) after Reid’s best offensive player, tailback Jamaal Charles, left the morning practice session on a cart with a strained right foot.
Neither of which is the ideal way to start your work week, mind you, but take a second to consider the context.
First, the gap between the Chiefs’ locker room and their practice fields at Missouri Western State — if you’ve never seen it, you’ve probably heard about it — is marked by a rather long, rather sloping hill. They practice in a valley, more or less. They go down the hill to start the party, and walk up the hill when it’s over. Although many players don’t walk up at all, regardless. Many stars end up being “carted off” — sitting upright, just fine — at the end of the morning. No biggie.
Second, it’s a strain.
“It’s more precautionary than anything,” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey told SiriusXM radio Monday after Twitter went nuclear.
“But, yeah, you hold your breath every time. People don’t realize the practice that Andy runs; it’s a really hard practice. What he does is condition the human body to play in the games and I think that speaks volumes. If you look — knock on wood — our injuries have been very minimal here, little strains and soft tissues, but nothing of major consequence.”
As the old chestnut goes, football isn’t a contact sport; it’s a collision sport. And there are any number of theories as to how the preseason can be utilized best to prepare for the 17 weeks of gladiatorial contests to come.
Some coaches and organizations prefer to ease into the thing, to ramp things up gradually. Reid doesn’t.
That said, there also has to be a balance. Getting hit a few times is good, just to get a feel for the tempo, the contact, the pain.
Getting hit like a piñata, unless you happen to be filled with Tootsie Rolls, is, as a general rule, bad.
It’s a judgment call, one that’s especially tricky with tailbacks who need to get used to acting as human battering rams. It’s a fine line between honing your sharpest blades and protecting your most valuable assets.
Few on the Chiefs roster are more valuable than Charles; despite the de-emphasis and increased disposability of tailbacks in today’s NFL, Reid and general manager John Dorsey know this.
To put it another way, a backfield of Alex Smith and Charles is “Jaws.” A backfield of Alex Smith and rookie Knile Davis is “Jaws 3.”
There’s a difference.
Precautions? Fine. Resting Charles for a few days, maybe even for Friday’s home preseason opener against San Francisco? Hey, that’s fine, too.
“If he’s ready to go,” Reid told reporters when asked about Charles’ availability against the 49ers, “he’ll go.”
And if he isn’t, well, fair enough. No point in pushing it.
Especially given a preseason in which the league’s injury list has already been piling up with notable setbacks, a walking wounded club that includes Philadelphia wideout Jeremy Maclin, Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta, Denver center Dan Koppen, Green Bay tackle Bryan Bulaga, San Francisco cornerback Chris Culliver, Chargers receiver Danario Alexander and New Orleans wideout Joe Morgan. Chiefs rookie right tackle Eric Fisher not only left the preseason opener last weekend with a bad left thumb, he apparently suffered a severe muscle bruise on the right shoulder as well.
“When Jamaal had his foot strained, it took a breath out of me,” Dorsey told the SiriusXM folks.
And he wasn’t the only one.
“First of all, you should never fear injury,” wideout/return man Dexter McCluster told reporters. “When you fear injury, that’s when you do get hurt. You come out here and bust your tail and work hard, nine times out of 10, you won’t get hurt. It’s training camp. You can’t avoid contact. Now it’s a part of staying healthy and doing whatever you can to get better.”
It’s about being ready, at full-speed, once the curtain lifts in Jacksonville on September 8.
Reid knows the drill, and better than most. In fact, here are the first-month numbers for his last four Eagles teams:
September 2012: 3-1.
September 2011: 1-2.
September 2010: 2-1.
September 2009: 2-1.
Combined record? 8-5.
In the long run, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to come skipping out of the starting blocks, either.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org