Collier: Offseason Steelers' Achilles' heel
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Sing, Goddess, of the rage of Peleus' son Achilles
The accursed rage, which brought pain to thousands of the Achaeans.
Those are the first two lines of Homer's "The Iliad," apparently, and since no one ever accused Homer of being a homer, he was probably well within reason to be upset by the damage inflicted by Achilles, the great hero of the Trojan War.
But whether it was the rage of Achilles or the rage of his victims, I wonder if the totality of their mythic anger can match the rage of folks like Willie Colon, Marlin Jackson, and even Limas Sweed this summer.
All three were NFL players of some accomplishment and/or promise, and all three severely damaged their Achilles tendons and very possibly their professional careers between May 2 and June 28.
Again, have we learned nothing from Plaxico Burress?
For all his hijinks, the former Steelers wideout taught us two things. Two things I thought everybody knew.
1) The spring and summer are not for football, but rather for violating the open container laws of various beachfront communities and/or Cleveland.
2) Autumn is for football, and, time permitting, for shooting yourself in the leg.
As the extended family gathers in Ireland this holiday weekend, the Rooneys might well discuss weightier matters than the balance of power in the AFC North, but you can't help but imagine a certain ambassador wondering aloud to his eldest son why significant parts of a potential championship football team are flying off in so many directions more than a month before training camp.
Colon's injury on Monday gave new momentum to an unspoken countdown haunting Steelers hindquarters.
9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . . 6
They were a 9-win team a year ago, with the quarterback generally upright and relatively upstanding. They were probably an 8-win team with the departure of Santonio Tweeter-dumb Holmes, probably a 7-win team in light of the formerly-upstanding quarterback's four- to six-week suspension. They look like maybe a 6-win team with Colon's Achilles unstrung.
Fans are thankful the coaches are finally on vacation because one more mini-camp or another round of OTAs and they'd be looking at the Cleveland Browns.
Four weeks to the day before Colon's injury, Jackson left a Philadelphia Eagles minicamp session on a cart. He was waving his arms and crying. Ruptured Achilles.
It was June 1.
Five weeks before that, Sweed, who'd endured his separation from the roster for personal reasons that were never explained, had finally cleared his head and was hoping to rejoin a club whose coaches still had a lot of hope for him. Injured his Achilles. Gone for the season.
It was May 2.
According to a study in "Foot and Ankle Specialist" -- don't let your subscription expire now -- more than 35 percent of NFL players who suffer Achilles injuries go the sidelines never to return.
Last year, three Houston Texans, including former Steeler Chukki Okobi, suffered season-ending injuries in spring drills. Two of them filed a grievance because the drills in question are prohibited in the offseason.
Now to be fair, NFL players can get hurt in any number of ways in any number of months, from the always dreaded pick-up basketball game to the standard 3 a.m. misunderstanding inside or outside a strip club. But football's dangers can be halved with just one unscheduled burst of managerial sanity.
Is the net gain of having Willie Colon do agility drills June 28 worth the risk? Coaches will say absolutely. I would say absolutely not. He's 315 pounds with going-on-four-years of wear and tear already on him. Every step he takes, every move he makes, fate is tempted. The best thing your key players can do -- and Colon is certainly the key to an otherwise undistinguished offensive line -- is hold out until at least Week 3 of the preseason.
But watch, the same people who are stressing the importance of offseason work, once those preseason games come around, will empty the benches before the sweat on the varsity even lathers.
Because it's dangerous, this game.
It's not as dangerous as coal mining or crocodile milking, but the coal miners and the crocodile milkers at least know what to do with the down time.
The Colon situation really saddens me, not so much for the big money he'll now likely never get, but because he was an unstoppable kid. Stayed close to home to play football at Hofstra because his mom was ill in the Bronx, started professionally deep in Bill Cowher's doghouse but never blinked in a storm of early mistakes. Once in the lineup, he started 50 consecutive games and Super Bowl 43.
But he couldn't get through June 28?
Crazy. Just crazy.
Even if his mother had remembered to dunk both ankles in the Styx, a modern-day Achilles might not have made it through minicamp.
First Published July 4, 2010 12:00 am