The Bengals were often criticized for their performance on special teams this season -- not that they were exclusive on that. Quan Cosby's punt return difference from 2009 to 2010 was drastic, with a 4.4 yard/return drop. He only had one return of 20 yards or more, compared to four returns in 2009. Bernard Scott's kick return average dropped 9.1 points to 22.4 yards/return, ranked 31st in the NFL with players who returned at least ten kickoffs this season. Cincinnati was forced to use three place kickers, who converted 77.4% of their total field goals in 2010.
Yet, it's not that hard to believe that this year would show a reduction in performance, considering that the Bengals placed 17 players on Injured Reserve -- many of them defensive regulars. Due to the injuries, players that normally play on special teams, such as coverage and return teams, are asked to step into an increased role on defense (or offense), limiting their work for other players that the Bengals sign off the streets. We're not saying it's an excuse, but it's more than understandable to see it happen. Then again, I've never bought into the theory that injuries are not an excuse for bad performances. Injuries can be the difference between a playoff team or a four-win team that's picking fourth in the NFL draft the following season. Again, not an excuse. But it's understandable.
Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons joined Lance McAlister and Dave Lapham Monday night at Dickmann's, discussing a lot of the special teams aspects (as you can imagine), including the injuries that hurt the unit. One of those conversations stuck out at me, sending red flags, once again, about the Bengals Medical Staff.
During the interview, Simmons said that Bengals linebacker (and backup fullback) Dan Skuta, played the final few games with a crack in his back. You read that correctly.
"He played with a cracked back, the last two weeks. He had a crack in some form of his vertebrae in his back," Simmons said Monday night. "When we played San Diego here at home, he come up to me before the game and said 'I don't know if I'm going to be able to make it'. I said, 'what's wrong'. He goes, 'well my back is tightening up'. I said, 'well hell, rub it out. Come on, you got to go.' And he said, 'I'm trying.' So after every play, he's over there with the trainer and the training is rolling a roller on his back so can just go to play the next play."
The truth is, this is a typical coach, with the "rub some dirt" mentality that's existed long before Paul "Bear" Bryant. However, we'd imagine that a red flag should have gone up at some point when the medical staff was treating a player with a CRACKED back? We're not talking about the Eric Davis hang nail, soreness in the leg, or perhaps the broken hand -- which is thus converted into a hand with a cast (aka, an awesome weapon to lineman). In an age where concussions has dominated the sport (see, increased enforcement on fines after violent tackles), the Bengals medical staff puts a roller to a player with a cracked back to keep him in the game.
Simmons also said that Skuta played with bone chips in both ankles and will require surgery this offseason.
We agree with Simmons when he says that "Regardless of what type of player they are, or what ability level they have. When you can count on people to know, through thick and thin, you'll end up being ok at the end of the day." Stuka just went to the top of our tough-son-of-a-bitch list, playing football on special teams with two bone chips in his ankle and a cracked back. There should be a medal for something like this.
The issues with the Bengals medical staff dates back for years. Carson Palmer didn't allow the medical staff to treat his injury. A 2000 NFLPA survey of 1,152 players in the league rated the Bengals with the worst medical staff with 19% of the players rating them as "good" or better. Arizona was rated with the next worst staff and 50% of their players voted favorably. Chris Perry ripped into the Medical staff, saying:
"They checked it out and said nothing was wrong with it and came back and told me something was wrong with it," he said of the knee. "Same with the ankle. That's why it took so long. If they had told me about it in February, it would have happened in February. I knew it was hurting, but to the extent that it was, I had no clue. I didn't know that (until) I went and got a second opinion and found out how hurt I really was."
Rashad Jeanty's agent blasted the medical staff saying:
"It’s tremendously disappointing on the way this has been handled," [Jeanty’s agent, David] Canter said. "We don’t see how the Cincinnati Bengals can do this without any inclination that this was even a possibility. It’s a tad shocking how he was released and was done in a disheartening, callous and unfair manner. The only reason why he isn’t healthy and wasn’t able to pass the physical is because they failed to fully diagnose and mistreated the injury."
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was forced to defend the medical staff after they passed Antonio Bryant's physical, yet his knee was clearly still damaged to the point that he could only practice once during training camp -- and even then, he noticeably struggled.
Even though Stuka is now the toughest sonofabitch that's been on this roster for some time (who is a prime candidate for our Who Powered Through) series, this only adds to the mounting concerns that the Bengals medical staff is more of a detriment than benefit to players playing a violent game.