When news broke on August 9th that Shannon Brooks was injured, Gopher Nation collectively rolled its eyes, sighed a sarcastic sigh in the direction of the football Gods, and hoped for the best regarding specifics that would follow in the coming days. When the expected time table of returned was announced shortly after, there was general agreement across the board that things could have been much worse. Let's examine some specific points about the injury and the surrounding variables to get a broader perspective.
Obvious Reasons Are Obvious
The following are blatantly obvious reasons why this injury was not good news. You have been warned.
- When has an injury ever been a positive? My thoughts tend to wander to the answer of, "never."
- Specifically speaking, an injury to the foot can be very problematic for a running back. The position heavily relies on quick cuts and fleet feet. If this part of the body is compromised at all, it can drastically affect performance, even if the player has rehabbed the injury to the fullest extent and believes they are back to 100% healthy.
- Missing practice time and action in games is generally seen as a set back to a player still developing. Considering Brooks is just a true sophomore, this injury could impede (or delay) further growth that may have been expected after his brilliant freshman campaign.
- Instead of starting the season with what many thought would be a two headed monster featuring Brooks and fellow sophomore Rodney Smith, the Gophers have to delve into their depth chart to find another back capable of splitting the work load with Smith. Depending on how the play distribution works out in Jay Johnson's offense, this may not be a huge deal, especially if they decide to just feature Smith heavily. But Smith's effectiveness may be compromised by the possibility of the defense not having to worry about homerun threat like Brooks on plays Smith must take off.
There's That Silver Lining(s) (Playbook)
Sorry, I've been known to drop generally irrelevant movie clips into articles/posts so here's that (warning: adult language is present in the below clip. I would advise you not to watch with volume on loud at work)...
So I included this for two reasons. One, because I am about to attempt to explain to you the "silver linings" behind the Shannon Brooks injury. And two, because isn't being a Gopher fan kind of like how Pat felt in this clip? Anytime things seem to be going well, we have to be punched in the gut. Or maybe that's just me? Anyways, aside over.
- Running back is arguably a less important position from an impact stand point because people believe that as long as you have a successful offensive line, you can plug in and play at the position. While I don't necessarily agree or disagree, there is the sentiment that strong offensive line play can erase a lot of other problems in the back field. While it is yet to be determined how improved the offensive line will be from its less-than-stellar year last year, if they perform at a high level, the injury to Brooks becomes less important.
- If there are no set backs to the time table, Shannon Brooks will return for conference play. Considering the official proclamation of the injury as being foot related and the 3-5 week time table was given on August 10th, let's do a little simple math. Five weeks from that day would put us at Wednesday, September 14th. Then, let's say it takes another week to get reintroduced to the speed of the game (basically adding on an additional week). That leaves Brooks to return to full speed in practice on September 21st. Between now and then, the Gophers play the likes of Oregon State and Indiana State at TCF Bank Stadium. And they will be coming off a bye week during that time. Their next game would be at home again on the 24th against Colorado State. Certainly not a murderer's road. It would almost be better if they proactively held him out until the trip to Happy Valley on October 1st.
- Rodney Smith is fully capable of being the featured back in this offense. While Brooks had the eye-popping highlights, 1.7 more yards per carry, and five more rushing touchdowns than Smith last season, Rodney actually had the better opportunity rate: 36.3% compared to Brooks' 30.3%. Opportunity rate is the percentage of a runner's carries that gain at least five yards. In this regard, Smith was certainly more consistent than Brooks. He didn't have the home runs but he delivered successful plays more often. Furthermore, in a 157 carries, he didn't have a single fumble. This compared to the four Brooks had in 38 fewer opportunities gives you an idea of how well Smith protected the ball when it was in his hands.
- The temporary attrition at the position could create good learning opportunities for other players, increasing the depth at running back. Much like it never hurts to build a comfortable lead against poor early season competition in order to get the back ups on the roster game experience, the injury to Brooks will allow other running backs valuable full speed experience. Getting JUCO transfer Kobe McCrary, and redshirt freshmen James Johannesson and Jonathan Femi-Cole some looks against the perceived softer part of the schedule is a pretty timely opportunity.
Obviously you never want one of your most explosive players to be dealing with an injury before games even start. Heck, maybe they have misdiagnosed or mislead the public and Brooks might not even see the field this year. (Granted, that's absolute worst case scenario.) But if we accept the variables that we know i.e. perceived timetable, position of injury, schedule during time missed, the Shannon Brooks injury could end up being something that was the slightest of blips when looking back on the 2016 season. The hope is the injury allows Rodney Smith to shine in the featured back role, give some experience to the other running backs on the roster, and gives Brooks some time to be fresh and healthy when he comes back. Here's to hoping the Brooks injury was merely the smallest of footnotes in an otherwise successful season.