UCLA Football: On Injuries and Full-Contact Practices


UCLA Football confirmed today that sophomore receiver Mossi Johnson suffered a knee injury in practice last week and will miss the remainder of the season. Johnson tore his ACL, MCL, and PCL. He had been seeing time at defensive back due to the injury toll on that position group.

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Johnson is the fourth Bruin to see his season cut short by injury and the sixth to miss significant time. Eddie Vanderdoes (knee – season), Fabian Moreau (foot – season), and Jayon Brown (back – week-to-week) were injured in games. Johnson (knee – season) and Myles Jack (knee-season) were injured in practice. Marcus Rios (infection – week-to-week) is a precautionary scratch due to illness.

When teams are hit by this many injuries, it’s tempting to look for an underlying common factor. Are Adidas shoes and other equipment somehow inferior at preventing injuries? Has the team’s temporary practice relocation to the intramural fields this season contributed in some way? Is there a flaw in UCLA’s conditioning regimen?

The rabbit hole I went down when I heard about Johnson’s injury was wondering whether UCLA’s full contact practices have taken a toll on the health of an already injury-ravaged squad.

I remember during the 2011 season that many people questioned Rick Neuheisel‘s policy of going non-contact during in-season practices. They said it left the team soft and unprepared to match up physically with opponents on game days.

Sep 19, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins linebacker Myles Jack (30) warms up before the game against the Brigham Young Cougars at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

I had the opportunity to ask him this in person that season, and he defended his approach by noting how much injuries had wreaked havoc on his teams at UCLA (particularly at quarterback). He pointed out that NFL teams did not practice full-contact during the season and dismissed the suggestion that this had a negative impact on the Bruins’ game day performance.

Whether or not I agree with him, I was reminded of that conversation by Johnson’s injury news. We’ve heard time and again this season that the Bruins are a physical team that go hard during practice. I think that attitude shows on the playing field (last week against Arizona State excepted). But is this the cost?

Probably not. Again, Vanderdoes, Moreau, and Brown were injured in games. Rios is out with an infection. Jack’s injury was during a non-contact drill. So Johnson is a data point of one, which doesn’t suffice to confirm my hypothesis.

It’s not as satisfying as finding an overarching cause, but the Bruins may just be unlucky this year. Injuries have derailed a number of teams’ seasons around the country. Notre Dame, TCU, Kansas State, Clemson, Cincinnati, Oregon, and USC have all had key players knocked out by injury, often multiple players.

In addition, UCLA has weathered a number of other distractions: the P. Diddy altercation, Ishmael Adams‘ arrest and reinstatement, Chris Clark‘s odd journey through Westwood (really San Bernardino), Myles Jack‘s draft announcement and the subsequent kerfuffle around Jim Mora‘s comments, and Adam Searl‘s arrest for rape.

Through it all, the Bruins have refused to let these setbacks become excuses or reasons to lose focus. This is to the immense credit of the team and the coaches, in a way that doesn’t show up on drive charts or scouting reports.

Next: UCLA Rises to No. 18 in the AP Poll

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