Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

Could 'Next Man In' have prevented Irish TE Kyle Rudolph's injury?

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Brian Kelly's aggressive nature as a football coach is a big reason why he is where he is today. But there are times when it's gotten the better of him.

At Grand Valley State in 2001, Kelly had an undefeated team, ranked No. 2 in Division II and  averaging 58 points a game.

In a first-round playoff game  against Bloomsburg, the Lakers were leading 28-14 in the final 30 seconds of the first half. But it wasn't enough. Any time Kelly had the ball it was a time to attack.

''It goes back to being a go-go-go offense -- in your face,'' said former Grand Valley State quarterback Curt Anes, who had thrown 48 touchdowns and only three interceptions in the regular season.

''We were up big on this team. And we had never won a playoff game in the history of the school. There's [20] or so seconds left in the half and it's third-and-one on our own 45.  ''He says, 'You know what? We're going to get that first down and go for another touchdown.'''

Anes got the first down, but paid a price.

''I completely dislocated my knee,'' he said. ''Tore up everything.''
Grand  Valley State paid a price as well. The Lakers won two more playoff games with a redshirt freshman and a starting wide receiver splitting quarterback duties. But the lost to North Dakota 17-14 in the Division II championship game.

It's probably not too far-fetched to argue that a quarterback sneak near midfield with 15 seconds left in the first half cost Grand Valley State a national championship. But that's a price Kelly is willing to pay for success. Anes was the Division II Player of the Year the following season as Grand Valley State won its first Division II title. And the Lakers won again in 2003, sending Kelly on his way to Central Michigan -- the next step on the road to South Bend.

Kelly's philosophy hasn't changed at Notre Dame. He's still as aggressive as he feels he can afford to be.

The big difference is that the stakes are higher. Curt Anes was headed to NFL Europe and a quick retirement from football. Kyle Rudolph and Michael Floyd have million-dollar NFL contracts awaiting them.

For a football coach, Kelly's ''Next Man In'' philosophy is a beautiful thing. The only problem I have with Kelly's version of it is that it works so well, it doesn't show enough concern for the man going out.

It's an issue worth considering, in my humble opinion, because seven games into Kelly's first season, five of Notre Dame's most important and/or productive players have been injured: Rudolph (torn hamstring), Floyd (pulled hamstring), running back Armando Allen (hip-flexor), quarterback Dayne Crist (blurry vision) and wide receiver Theo Riddick (sprained ankle).

Sorry to rock the Notre Dame boat, but if the ''Next Man In'' is that effective, it should have been used to allow Rudolph to rest his nagging hamstring until it was completely healed. Then he'd have a better chance of being available for the more-important second half of the Notre Dame season -- when Kelly's offense theoretically will take its biggest steps -- instead of playing in the formative first six games and missing the part of the season where Kelly can get even more out of Rudolph's extraordinary skills.

The same with Allen's hip-flexor against Western Michigan and Floyd's hamstring against Western Michigan and Navy. It's courageous for an athlete to play through pain or discomfort.
But playing through an injury is risky. Playing through a hamstring is ill-advised, especially if you can afford to avoid it.

I don't think that's radical medical advice, which is why I asked Kelly about it last week.

Did his experience with Rudolph -- a ''tweaked'' hamstring that Rudolph said never was 100 percent becoming a torn hamstring requiring surgery after six games -- affected how he dealt with Floyd. In other words, would he be more cautious this time?

''Kyle Rudolph's situation was a totally different situation. He was not even a grade I hamstring, and then had, obviously, a tear of the hamstring. So they're separate cases. But in answering your question, no, it hasn't changed the way we deal with hamstring injuries across the board.''

And I also asked him if it was true that in general, the best way to treat an injured hamstring is to let it heal completely -- that a bad hammy can only get worse while participating in athletic competition.

''No. We do not subscribe to that theory,'' Kelly said.

Fair enough. And that was that. (Kelly did not appear offended by the questions. But the South Bend Tribune made an issue of it, reporting that Kelly was ''peppered'' with questions about hamstrings at his Tuesday press conference. Three questions. I guess four would have been downright ''badgering'' and five an inquisition.)

I don't think he's wrong to deal with hamstring injuries -- or injuries in general -- the way he does. But I don't think I'm wrong for raising the question -- not when the two best offensive players on the team (and offensive tackle Taylor Dever) have bad hamstrings. One of these days it might be a parent wondering why his or her son played with a sore hamstring in 55-degree weather, played again the following week and then tore it the week after that. If that happens, I won't be the only one ''peppering'' Brian Kelly with questions about hamstrings.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on October 22, 2010 4:38 AM.

Notre Dame's Michael Floyd says he'll play against Navy was the previous entry in this blog.

Brian Kelly on the spot after after Navy outcoaches Notre Dame is the next entry in this blog.

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