Coaches often shake off injuries in March and April as part of the vagaries of holding practices at a time of year when guys aren't really in 100 percent football shape. While they obviously don't like injuries, they also tend not to get too worked up about them since the vast majority are usually completely healed by the time camp rolls around in August.
But when a team can barely field healthy first and second squads for the purposes of drills and scrimmages -- and taken in the context of the nearly legendary amount of injuries last fall -- when is it OK to start wondering if we have a larger problem in the program?
Much has been made of how much more physical the Cougars have been during spring practices, and that undoubtedly has been a major goal of the coaching staff, which not-so-subtly implied that last year's team just wasn't tough enough. They have repeatedly sent a clear message: Get tough, or get gone.
But there's a fine line between preaching toughness and physicality and pushing 18- to 23-year-old bodies beyond what they're physically capable of.
It's no secret that Paul Wulff has demanded more of the Cougars than was asked under Bill Doba. However, I've talked to some WSU insiders who were close to the program in the days of Mike Price and Doba and who spent some time around Wulff's team last fall, and they walked away not just surprised, but shocked at just how hard Wulff pushed his players.
In discussing the sad state of the team, they said there was absolutely no doubt in their minds that the high rate of injuries was directly tied to Wulff overworking his team. One insider said, "That stuff might work at Eastern, but these are Division I athletes -- you just can't run them into the ground like he does." One even went so far as to imply that it bordered on abuse.
Wulff would tell you that his tactics were simply an effort to eradicate the soft culture cultivated during the Doba years. I tend to agree with Wulff in that respect, having witnessed the general lack of discipline around the program both on and off the field. I even mentally dismissed the insider at the time of our conversation as part of that culture.
But now, I'm not so sure. After just a couple of weeks of spring practices, the injuries have once again piled up to staggering heights. And while I know that some of it is probably a matter of perception because of just the overall lack of depth in the program, there's still something in the back of my mind that just can't get away from what that insider said six months ago.
I'm not ready to blame Wulff full steam ahead for this latest wave -- after all, a quick Google search of "spring practice injuries" reveals this -- but I honestly believe this is something that is going to bear watching heading into September. If that injured list starts getting long in August once again, it might be time to seriously question just what's going on out on that practice field.
After all, what good does being tougher and more physical do you if a school with already limited talent can't get that talent out on the field? This team isn't USC, with yet another 5-star recruit ready to jump into the lineup.