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Chiefs, Reid taking right approach with contact in camp

Updated: 2013-08-13T02:52:29Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

— The optimism surrounding the “new” Chiefs had a near-death experience when Jamaal Charles sat on a motorized cart and was wheeled away from practice and toward an X-ray machine on Monday.

Later, when Andy Reid addressed reporters, the first words out of his mouth told the world it was a foot strain and that X-rays were negative. If the guy in the cubicle next to you exhaled in the late morning, this is probably why. Charles still needs to show he’s OK on the field, of course, but only time will tell.

NFL seasons are played on the edge of the cliff, anyway. One injury can be like an oil slick on that road. Especially when it’s Charles, the Chiefs’ best, most dynamic, and game-changing player.

And double the angst when the injury happens in training camp … away from the play … for the owner of the highest yards-per-carry average for any running back in NFL history.

“We play,” Reid says. “We come out and we play. We do what we do and don’t worry about all that other stuff.”

Reid is right, you know. There is nothing he or any other football coach can do to eliminate injuries, even in training camp, and more importantly: there’s nothing he or any other football coach should do to eliminate injuries, even in training camp.

This is a touchy topic every year during training camp, and even more so right now with Washington coach Mike Shanahan effectively putting star quarterback Robert Griffin III in mothballs until the regular season.

Elsewhere, Eagles receiver and former Mizzou star Jeremy Maclin will miss the season because of an ACL tear. Seahawks star Percy Harvin will miss much of the season, the Packers and Broncos had to replace key offensive linemen and tight end Dennis Pitta’s hip injury is amplifying Anquan Boldin’s departure from Baltimore.

Reid called Charles’ departure from practice a “precautionary measure,” and that the running back would play in Friday’s preseason game if he is able. If the injury turns out to be more serious, there surely will be some criticism of the coach.

The Chiefs have, relatively speaking, a hard training camp. They run real plays. They tackle. They hit. Monday morning, safety Eric Berry clobbered running back Shaun Draughn with a hit that would’ve made all the highlight shows in a game. Eric Fisher was a full participant in practice after minor injuries to his thumb and shoulder.

This is a stark change from recent seasons, when Romeo Crennel went to great lengths to protect against injuries and Todd Haley basically turned training camp into an extended calisthenics class to keep players healthy.

We saw how that worked. With the exception of 2010, the Chiefs’ recent teams have looked an awful lot like teams that could’ve used more practice. And the 2011 season, in particular, was torpedoed by injuries (including Tony Moeaki’s torn ACL in the final preseason game).

There’s a difference between using discretion and losing reason when approaching training camp. Berry’s hit on Draughn aside, the Chiefs aren’t taking unnecessary risks. On special teams drills, there is no tackling, no wedge-busters leading with their heads. Quarterbacks aren’t to be hit, which, now that we mention it, you could say the same thing about the way real games are officiated.

Football is an inherently dangerous game, of course. That’s why the league is dealing with so many player safety issues, and why more parents are hesitant to let their children play. Football isn’t football (or, if we’re being honest, nearly as profitable) without violence, and that violence has consequences.

These are real problems for the NFL, but that’s all on the macro level.

Reid can only be concerned about this on the micro level, about doing what needs to be done to turn what was the sport’s worst team last year into a contender. He can’t do that without his best players, of course, but he also can’t do it if his best players aren’t improving during this critical period of team-building.

That means players will be injured, at some point. But players often get injured the other way, too.

At least with this approach, you can assume they’re getting better when healthy.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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