The preseason was littered with bodies throughout the NFL. In a string of meaningless games to get players ready for the ones that matter, the scene left behind was mostly carnage. Every week, it seemed, another player was hurt. Often the injury was significant, if not season ending.
It’s a casualty of war in the NFL that everyone accepts, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Teams enter the summer optimistic, dreaming Super Bowl dreams, and then – just when they think they’re ready – a key player is stolen by an act of fate. It’s not fair, but it happens every preseason. And this summer it seemed to happen a lot.
In fact, several key players for teams with postseason aspirations didn’t even make it to training camp healthy. So what are the biggest injuries that have already happened before the regular season even kicks off? Here’s a look at six that could have catastrophic effects on the injured player’s team:
Seattle Seahawks WR Percy Harvin (hip)
He is the prime example of a key, if not catastrophic, injury that happened before training camp even started. Yes, the Seahawks were outstanding without him last season and still have the same powerful defense and dominant rushing attack. But the addition of Harvin was going to not only help the development of second-year quarterback Russell Wilson, it was going to give them another dimension that would make them impossible to stop.
Now, maybe they get him back midseason for a stretch run that could include a Super Bowl chase. That’s a heck of a midseason acquisition. But with Harvin the Seahawks could’ve threatened to be a powerhouse, 14-win type of team. Now they’re back to where they were – neck and neck with the 49ers in what promises to be a tight NFC West race.
Baltimore Ravens TE Dennis Pitta (hip)
The loss of Pitta may not be devastating on the surface, and it’s likely the Ravens will find a way to replace his 61 catches, 669 yards and seven touchdowns. This one is more about piling on to a Super Bowl championship team that has seemed to be hemorrhaging players since the end of their parade. Ray Lewis retired. Ed Reed wasn’t re-signed. Neither were Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, and Anquan Boldin was traded away.
Then came the injury to Pitta who seemed to be a nice security blanket for Joe Flacco. Now it’s up to Ed Dickson, assuming he can stay healthy.
Philadelphia Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin (torn ACL)
Welcome to the NFL, Chip Kelly, and good luck installing your revolutionary, hyper-speed, spread-option offense without your team’s No. 1 receiver. Considering all that goes into Kelly’s high-octane offense, about the only bigger blow would’ve been the loss of his quarterback. Yes, they still have DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper could be a sleeper as Maclin’s replacement. But Cooper doesn’t have the speed or resume of Maclin, so there’s no guarantee he can pick up the slack.
Green Bay Packers T Bryan Bulaga (torn ACL)
The Green Bay Packers are all about Aaron Rodgers, so protecting him has to be one of the most important jobs in the organization. Bulaga, a former first-round pick, was being installed as the left tackle before he tore his ACL. So now the blind side of one of the leading candidates for NFL MVP is being protected by David Bakhtiari, a rookie fourth-round pick from Colorado. The Packers like him, but that sure isn’t the way they drew it up for what was already a shaky offensive line.
New Orleans Saints LB Will Smith (knee)
Rob Ryan had his hands full already switching the Saints – the NFL’s worst defensive team last season – from the 4-3 to a 3-4, but his task may be impossible without one of his best defensive players. Smith, who was switching from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 linebacker, was probably the Saints’ best bet to provide a consistent pass rush. He certainly would’ve provided more pressure on the pocket than Martez Wilson will provide. It’s particularly devastating for a Saints team that has already lost linebacker Victor Butler to a torn ACL in the spring and may be without Jonathan Vilma for quite a while, too. It leaves the Saints looking like an all-offense, no-defense team once again.
San Diego Chargers LB Melvin Ingram (torn ACL)
The Chargers had high hopes for their 2012 first-round pick, who was going to be a key part of their attack along with newly signed Dwight Freeney. There hasn’t been a lot of optimism in San Diego, where they’ve suffered free-agent losses and a string of injuries, but they seemed to really believe Ingram was ready for a step forward after a lackluster rookie season. Now with him gone – at least for half the season – the Chargers are extremely thin at his position and Freeney, at age 33, might have to play a lot more than the Chargers expected him to play.
— By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN