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The Miami tight end position has been oft-injured since 2017

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With Will Mallory out for the rest of spring, the ‘Canes will give reps to the young bucks in the tight end room.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Virginia Tech at Miami Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes will be without Will Mallory for the rest of the 2022 spring camp due to a shoulder injury. Mallory, a fifth year senior tight end, has been injured and missed action over multiple seasons since arriving in Coral Gables under then coach Mark Richt.

Mallory as played in 30 games over four seasons, scoring 11 times while catching 73 balls for 1,006 yards for the Hurricanes. Todd Hartley and Stephen Field have served as Mallory’s primary position coaches, while his strength and conditioning coaches have been Gus Felder, David Feeley, and now Aaron Feld.

Aside from Mallory, a laundry list of other tight ends have missed time at Miami due to injury. Brevin Jordan, Christopher Herndon IV, Brian Polendey, Dominic Mammarelli, and Michael Irvin II are other TE’s that I can recall missing time due to injury while at Miami.

Jordan had foot and ankle injuries costing him seven games over three seasons at The U. Like Mallory, Mammarelli is also a casualty to a shoulder injury while Herndon IV, Irvin II and Polendy all suffered from a knee injury that cost them playing time.

One or two players injured would seem like a fluke or even maybe bad luck if you believe in such things. But having multiple and repeat injuries from the same position room for years leads you to ask a few questions- what are the common threads at the TE position?

Per Jason Kirk’s piece for Falcoholic

In 2010, Jason Kirk looked at NFL Injured Reserve data for Falcoholic. His research found that the TE position was a middle of the road position for injuries in the NFL. TE’s at the time were trending below wide receivers, and linebackers. In high school research data, the offensive line leads the way in injuries with running backs second and TE’s not in the top-4. Data collected on 33 FBS players didn’t ping the TE as the most-often, nor hardest hit position on the field or even makes the article.

11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) is the most common personnel group in the NFL, accounting for around 85% of groupings on the field. Teams typically carry multiple TE’s as they serve roles in the kicking game as well as in multiple TE sets and as fullbacks and in the wing and split wide.

So someone like Mallory, for instance, was getting injured at Miami on less snaps in a game than an OL or QB, although we don’t have his GPS data to track his overall workload through practices, workouts, etc.

So what do S&C professionals see as the leading cause of injury amongst athletes?


Training load and work load

The four questions (no, not those four questions):

1- Which events make you most tired during competition?

I doubt it’s jogging down field after someone else catches the ball or standing around between plays while the team resets.

2- What skills does your position perform most frequently or with the most impact? Watching Mallory in action against NC State in 2020, he’s blocking damn near 70% of the time. Whether that’s over 41 runs, or in pass protection, or on screens where he was blocking for the RB or split out wide to block for a bubble or quick over the 41 throws from King vs. The Pack.

He only caught six balls, a tight end dump and a few slide routes. He runs out on pass plays but wasn’t targeted often because King got through two reads before 85 would break off his route.

3- What poses the biggest non-contact injury risk to the athlete?

If that’s what your cutting looks like, work on cutting off defenders and curved sprinting. The turf monster got another one!

4- What do you specialize in that you do better than anyone else?

Is it route running? Is it run blocking? Figure it out.


What about all of that low intensity training?

1- Low intensity doesn’t make you tired.

2- Low intensity activities don’t have any impact on the game.

3- Low intensity actions are not causing injuries.

Stop doing low intensity training. Jogging around won’t make you tired in games, it doesn’t impact specific plays or the final score, and I doubt it’ll cause an injury compared to working on cutting off of a defender that’s actually moving and forcing you into the OODA Loop.

Athletes often suffer camp non-contact injuries when the decision making portion is ramped up. All of the closed drills that are just going over bags or ladders, or doing a couple of seat and rolls before sprinting to a line aren’t going to improve the decision making process, or prep the body for sport.


The to-do list

If you increase anything as an S&C coach, it’s availability.

Now look at Oregon over the past few years. They’ve had to play games without star players like Kayvon Thibodeaux, CJ Verdell, and Justin Flowe to name a few.

Now look at Miami. The ‘Canes were without D’Eriq King, Cam Harris, Corey Gaynor, James Williams, Don Chaney Jr., Jalen Rivers and now Will Mallory is out again.

Miami has also been without a potential star in safety Avantae Williams. While Williams wasn’t physically injured, it’s every program’s responsibility to focus on the holistic wellness of their student-athletes. Athletes and coaches need to focus just as much on the mental and emotional aspects of the game as they do the physical.

The big rocks

High intensity dominant actions are the big rocks. When watching Mallory play against NC State from 2020, he’s spending the majority of his time blocking as opposed to running routes. Mallory is in pass protection, blocking on run plays, as well as on screens out in space. But how many routes does he run in practice? How much time spent in routes on air or jacking around stepping over wickets and under PVC gimmicks in closed drills?

As Keir says, running one mile (he says KM but this is America, mate!) isn’t going to lead to injury quite like running 10 100’s. One mile is low intensity, but 10 100’s at full intensity increases the risk for the athlete (hamstring pulls, calf pulls, etc). How do you manage injuries? Make the athletes robust to the activities that cause injury.

What are the skills?

Per the video, range of motion, magnitude and direction of force, the muscles used, the contact time available, peak force production, and muscle contraction time. So how do you improve those skills?

Bondarchuk

1- Exercise selection: Come up with a list of exercises that are more or less specific relative to the competition exercise that build to this point. Think about the build up from general work to actions that simulate the game. In the weight room, the 1RM max bench press should be weighted higher for offensive line than a DB, and the defensive back needs a Fly 10 more than a big fella.

2- Time-motion demands: Don’t just look for miles logged, look for high intensity actions, . How many times do these dominant actions occur throughout the game and how long are these actions, and what is the rest between actions? I believe Dr. Rhea said most O-Line peak power happens by 0.45 seconds into a play. So what exercise in the weight room or on the field hits peak power before 0.45? Possibly the landmine press, or a med ball wall throw from the athlete’s on-field posture.

“In football, we know contact off the line of scrimmage happens in .45 seconds,” said David Ballou, talking at IU’s 2018 Media Day. “So we’re going to make sure that every one of our offensive and defensive lineman, that their velocity curves, that their peak power, that they have the ability to hit their peak power in front of .45 seconds.”

3- Injuries? According to the video, Injuries occur in the gap between what we have to be ready for versus what we’ve prepared athletes for. Injuries happen in fall or spring camp because coaches haven’t prepared athletes for the demands of their Death March camp weeks. If an OL has 45 pass blocks, 35 on-man run blocks and 5 pulls you need to prepare them accordingly.

4- Summer into camp: The suggestions of Keir and Kurt Hester are to use June and July to start stacking volume of dominant actions for camp. “Condition” athletes with game demands (Drives of six, 3-7 second reps of game-like movements with 35 second rest and a six minute break between drives).

That would get you closer than what you typically see, and would have you on boarding for camp. You can’t add in the impact of emotional state, heat in a helmet and shoulders pads, or the increased length of time on the field- but at least your’e closer.

Like Keir said, guys aren’t injured because of their lack of weight room time. Athletes are injured because of their lack of time spent prepping for the actual sport itself.


Reverse engineering the TE vs. NCSU ‘20

In a nice win over NCSU in 2020, Will Mallory played in all but about 10 reps on offense. Mallory, a third year tight end that season, was set to really breakout and had a six catch game with a score on 13 yards per grab. He was also called on for blocking at the point of attack on the majority of snaps on offense.

Below, we’re going to examine what it takes to play TE at the Power 5 level.

Base run blocking

Above- Obviously, the NCSU D-Lineman was working Mallory. The DL has the TE at bay, using extension to control his blocker. The DL is riding and reading while in total control. The second Harris comes his way, the TE gets a pull and rip move and the DL is in on the tackle for loss.

Exercises?

In the weight room, Mallory could use things like medicine ball throws into the wall (or back and forth with a partner) as well as landmine presses. Mallory fails to bring his hips and hands, while also being stagnant with his feet at the point of contact.

At six-foot-five he’s lanky, but he could play with a lower center of mass. That won’t be created under a chute, he has to actually work on developing strength at the angles he’ll play from. What about an isometric trap bar deadlift from a staggered stance?

On the field, Mallory could use heavy sled drives from different starting angles. Force him to start straight ahead, like in the rep, but have to make lateral and diagonal steps, engage, and drive the sled for five seconds.

From there, have another TE work reps with him while holding a med ball (Alex Mirabal loves these, no pun intended) and pretending to be a DL or LB. Mallory will step, strike, and drive the scout player out, while having to fight against that player who is giving his teammate a realistic look without full contact being necessary. Med ball reps can be done in shorts and a t-shirt. They can start with the DL stationary and eventually include slanting and twisting to up the realism.

Split Zone run blocking

Above- Split zone kick out from the TE is a pivotal block to get into your arsenal as a legit P5 player. If teams can’t run split zone in this era of football, what can they run? Mallory and LT Zion Nelson secure this block on the DL, however, the ‘patty cake’ method doesn’t do it for me. You can’t brace for impact in the ACC, you have to set the impact point.

Above- You can see a separate rep where 85 stops his feet before contact. This results in 1- a loss of momentum into the opponent, 2- a potential to lunge into the opponent which means the blocker is off balance, and 3- a strike with his hands which are vital to his pass catching as opposed to his shoulder which is protected by padding

Above- you’re kicking the DE out so the RB can cutback inside of you. It’s a ‘same shoulder / same leg’ technique where the offensive player should own the inside of the gap. When kicking out to the left, the TE should use the left shoulder and thigh. The left shoulder pad should hit the DE in the sternum, while the left knee is in the crotch of the defender.

So how do you rep this year-round? In the weight room there isn’t anything directly close.

1- When working on field work, though, working on the ‘steal step’ (pivot and and sprint) would help. Start facing forward and rep a pivot and acceleration in your early on Change of Direction (COD) work. You cannot train an athlete simply with linear sprint work. Adjust those starting angles.

2- Working on sprint and deceleration, including a sprint and decel testing drill, would prep the body for a 10y acceleration followed by a quick deceleration. Reward the fastest 10y static sprint that also has the fastest deceleration.

3- Buzzing feet. Just like in tackling, coming to balance and buzzing your feet is important for blocks, too. A TE can’t just run 100% into the D-End, to quote Harley Race re every new worker in the territory’s finish, “I’ll move.”

4- Set up a buddy with a shield at a short distance (let’s say 3y to start) and slowly increase the distance and add in the buzz steps. A contact shield would do wonders to save your already injured shoulder.

The buddy can squeeze in, go wide or meet you head on. He’s going to slam into you with that shield between your contact point and it’s the TE’s job to not just fit him with the same shoulder and thigh, but to run your feet and drive the “DE” out of five hard steps.

Pull and wrap

Your Split Zone work can turn right into your pull and wrap work. For a TE, these are similar blocks. The difference would be instead of kicking out, have the TE pass a soccer pole (easier to move around than a 100# dummy) and turn up field. Now their ‘buzz’ steps will be once they’ve turned up as opposed to a linear path.

Again, have the scout defender moving around and carrying a med ball. unlike a SZ kick out, this will be a hands-based engagement.

Blocking in space

Blocking in space on screens and runs isn’t that much different than traditional TE blocking. It just requires the element of being in space and the defender more than likely moving around more, and quicker, than a DE.

Pass Pro

If TE’s are going to be used in pass protection, I have to ask... how much time is spent drilling the pass pro techniques the TE is using? The footwork, visual-cognitive-motor work, and the punch itself have to be repped in order to be effective in the game. Versus NCSU in 2020, Mallory was used a handful of times in pass pro with good and bad results.

Route footwork

Instead of meaningless gassers and runs, why not have the TE’s run repeated routes? Mallory ran a number of fins, drags, y-crosses and slides against NC State in ‘20. Have a list of possible routes, then have a teammate put together a wristband of routes for Mallory.

The TE won’t look at them until it’s time to “condition.” He’ll look at the formation and route on the band and run that route. A teammate will give him 35 seconds to set up and do it all again. Also, film the work! Make sure it’s filmed and timed so the intensity is there.

Having different routes on the wristband will allow for 3-7 second reps which are the lengths of typical offensive plays, and he’ll cover those distances. This is using the appropriate energy system and preparing the athlete for football, as opposed to jogging reps of gassers, 110’s, and 300’s or useless mat drills.


The Wrap

Hell people, I wish I had a clear and concise answer for you as to why so many Miami tight ends get injured. It’s up there with Maryland quarterbacks on the list of what the hell is going on here... list.

My guess is that with sport coaches being obsessed with one rep maxes, mindless mat drills and conditioning tests, and grueling camp experiences that the athletes are just underprepared and over-stressed resulting in an inordinate amount of injuries.

Evaluate your weight room work, your indy period and small group work, and your conditioning to make sure the TE’s are prepared for the workload ahead, and aren’t over or under worked in vital areas. Since the injuries have been ankles, knees and shoulders, focus on those areas for pre-hab work and evaluate whether they’re injured in practice or games and in contact or non-contact periods.