Bumped. Interesting discussion. - BN Eds.
When UCLA's football coach, Jim Mora, began his program to try to raise the overall toughness of the team, he was probably expecting (or at least hoping) that they were tough enough to survive the training. Now, with 24 players unable to suit up for a recent practice, maybe he should begin to wonder if he's pushing too hard. Incidentally, by the end of that recent practice, safeties Librado Barocio and Anthony Thompson, receiver Jerry Johnson and cornerback Aaron Hester had joined the list of the injured, bringing the number to 28.
Practices continue to be rough, both in terms of contact and exertion--toughness seems to be the word of the season. At this rate, UCLA players may want to upgrade their medical insurance or even get some dental insurance quotes to protect themselves from the hard knocks of camp. Players who can't handle the pace or live up to Mora's demanding expectations may find themselves on the outside looking in--Mora has made it clear that he expects some of the players in his camp to not be around when fall arrives.
So, if you're keeping score at home, that's almost one third of the team's current roster standing on the sidelines because of injuries. Luckily most aren't major injuries--Mora tends to refer to them as "tweaks," but you would think he would start to worry just based on the sheer number. The truth is, however, that the head coach doesn't seem worried at all. Mora admitted to a lack of concern about players with minor injuries, mainly because of the depth his team possesses. As a coach who is used to working with an NFL roster of 54 players, the 97 UCLA players he has to work with must seem like a virtually limitless supply of fresh legs for him to put into a ballgame. Even with 28 players out, Mora still has 15 more than he had in the pros. But Mora may be overestimating the depth of his team. They finished that recent practice with only six healthy scholarship defensive backs.
The idea, of course, is that tough practices will produce athletes that are better able to handle the stresses of the season. But with athletes' deaths on the rise due to heat-related illnesses and impact-related trauma, and with more and more being learned about the long term effect of concussions (at least one Bruins player is out with "concussion-like symptoms), coaches, parents and even fans need to start to wonder "how much is too much?"
In games there are rules and referees to protect the players; in practice, it's pretty much up to the coaches to make sure the players are safe. Regardless of how much the coaches want to win, they need to make sure they aren't pushing the kids too hard, and they need to make sure to have plenty of medical assistance readily available before, during and after practice.
What impact will Mora's "last man standing" approach have on UCLA's season? It's hard to say. The team should be tougher and in better condition, but they may lose too many skilled athletes along the way to have the depth they need to get through the season. There is also concern about whether college age athletes will buy in to such "old school" training. In any case, it should be interesting to watch.