49ers, NFL uptick in injuries in 2020 reveal importance of OTAs, minicamps

Dante Pettis #18 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Dante Pettis #18 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

While the 49ers’ 2020 offseason has no precedent and training camp has produced a lot of injuries, there are parallels to previous abbreviated offseasons.

The San Francisco 49ers and the rest of the NFL are fully realizing why minicamps and organized team activities are on the offseason calendar before training camp.

Granted, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to the vast majority of official workouts the Niners and the remaining other 31 teams around the league would usually have. And in the interest of national safety and health, it’s understandable why the NFL would be forced to drastically alter the offseason calendar to further damage the chances of a regular season, albeit one altered itself.

Yet one of the many byproducts stemming from cancelled minicamps and OTAs is starting to reveal itself in ugly fashion: a noticeable uptick in player injuries.

Unlike determining how a lack of minicamps and OTAs can adversely affect rookies and players joining new teams and systems, the numbers of injuries can be quantified. This ESPN breakdown already highlights how the lack of spring workouts have caused an increase in injury problems during this abbreviated offseason:

"Just a couple of days into full padded practices during 2020 NFL training camps and major injuries have popped up around the league.A torn Achilles tendon, a torn ACL and a concussions are among the injuries suffered early. Players such as Vince Biegel, Gerald McCoy, Robert Alford and Nick Chubb are among those sidelined. The lack of OTAs and in-person training/workouts because of the coronavirus pandemic left coaches and player personnel wondering what they’d see in regard to injury. Just two days in, it’s on full display."

The New York Giants can now add one of their top picks from the 2020 NFL Draft, former Alabama safety Xavier McKinney (foot), to the growing list of serious injuries being suffered before the start of the regular season.

The 49ers, too, have seen some notable injuries pop up already. The first occurred during impromptu and unofficial player workouts, as the team lost wide receiver Deebo Samuel to a fractured foot, now-Seattle Seahawks defensive back D.J. Reed to a torn pectoral and fellow wideout Richie James to a broken wrist. Soft-tissue injuries picked up in camp as well, as the Niners lost rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk to a hamstring strain and EGDE Nick Bosa to a leg strain.

Both players are expected to miss the rest of the preseason, although the hopes are for Week 1 availability.

Without diving into the deep medical analysis behind the importance of minicamps and OTAs, it’s not too bold a statement to suggest their respective roles in ramping up players’ health is vital in proper conditioning and regular-season preparation.

San Francisco and the rest of the league is experiencing the ramifications from not having such events.

49ers, NFL have a precedent from an abbreviated offseason

Yes, 2020 has been a year like no other. There’s no getting around that, and one shouldn’t be overly critical on the way the league has handled the pandemic. It’s a proverbial “learn on the fly” means of keeping things moving forward.

But in 2011, there was a lockout. Offseason events were canceled, franchises couldn’t be in contact with their players, players couldn’t work out at team facilities and so on.

The results in training camp, the preseason and the regular season, once the lockout ended, were eerily similar as this Sept. 2011 Bleacher Report article pointed out:

"Everyone knows that in the NFL, players get hurt.  It is indeed the nature of the beast.Yet, due to the inability to work out at team facilities, it appears that some players may not have been working out at all. Teams like the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos need Hawkeye Pierce to come to their aid. Denver started last week’s game against Cincinnati down seven starters. The Giants lost seven starters before the regular season even started.And that is only the beginning. …So why all the injuries? Again, one could draw the correlation to mere coincidence and say that it is a part of the game. One could also make the argument that due to the lockout, players did not work out as they should have."

For the 49ers that year, it was even worse. The team was ushering in a first-year head coach, Jim Harbaugh, who didn’t have the usual chance of meeting and working with his players upon taking over.

Tack on the existing difficulties of overcoming no spring workouts, regulated by the training staff, and the results were awfully predictable: San Francisco endured one of the ugliest and most disjointed preseason stretches in recent memory which included two games in which the Niners were outscored by a combined score of 54-10.

Yes, preseason. And the 49ers went 13-3 that year, so it doesn’t matter. But early on, it was ugly. As the year drew on, the Niners needed 81 individual player game days used for injured reserve.

Unlike 2011, though, the 2020 49ers don’t have to navigate a first-year head coach and can rely on 18 of 22 starters from last year’s Super Bowl squad returning to the fray. The injury X-factor is going to be there, of course, and it’ll likely stretch well into the regular season.

Next. 3 best stories over first two weeks of 49ers training camp. dark

Unfortunately, the ugly reality of a shortened offseason will be ever-present throughout 2020 and could have damaging effects for all 32 teams, not just San Francisco.