I think we sometimes forget pain as a part of football. It takes until we see a big, strong, young athlete writhing on the ground before we remember it. But even as fans, we’re a bit cavalier about it. The backup comes in and is often a top recruit as well. Surgery returns players quickly from what were, not that long ago, season- or career-ending injuries. But pain? That happens all the time.
Last weekend watching games, I saw more than just knee sprains, concussions, Tommy Armstrong landing on his head. Sprained ankles hurt. Dislocated fingers are agonizing. I saw one player go down and couldn’t figure out why he seemed to be in so much pain until I noticed a player diving past him reached for the ball and hit him (accidentally) below the belt. Yeah, that’s very painful.
These Big Ten players aren’t getting paid, but they are paying a price for football. I think we should note it. There’s some big injuries that will affect games around the conference this weekend, so let’s take a look:
Tommy Armstrong Jr., QB, Nebraska
Things have gone well for Tommy Armstrong Jr. from about the point when he hit the turf last Saturday. The ugly, brutal play was handled perfectly by the Nebraska medical staff. And while Armstrong didn’t have any serious neck injury, they treated him so if there was one — they simply couldn’t know on the field — that he would have the best chance of return. I doubt anyone thought Armstrong would be back on the sideline before the game was over or have a chance to play just a week later.
Armstrong was back at practice on Thursday and could have full clearance from the concussion protocol on Friday. If so, he’ll be in line for the start, though Mike Riley hasn’t made any decision, saying he won’t discuss it until Armstrong is cleared by the medical staff.
Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State
Weber has been playing through a sprained AC joint, the connection between the clavicle (collarbone) and the shoulder itself. It’s painful and tough to manage. Shoulder pads really don’t help, because it’s the lateral impact that is problematic. Weber has worn some kind of harness that limits his motion. But what’s helped him more, I think, are the blowouts. With wins such as Ohio State has been getting, Weber can head to the sidelines in the second half and avoid more pain and damage. Demario McCall is likely to get a good bit of work again this weekend. So while Weber is going to play, I’m not sure how much. That could depend a lot on Maryland’s defense.
Tyler O’Connor, QB, Michigan State
Things looked dicey for the struggling Spartans earlier this week. With Brian Lewerke out and Tyler O’Connor not cleared to even practice, there were big questions about not only who would play, but simple depth at the key quarterback position. By the end of the week, O’Connor was back at practice and seems on track to start against Rutgers. He’s been cleared, but Michigan State hasn’t been clear about what O’Connor’s injury was. Was it a full concussion or just a head injury of some lesser degree? Regardless, having O’Connor out there is a plus.
Shannon Brooks, RB, Minnesota
Brooks was a surprise scratch last week, forcing Rodney Smith to take on the feature role. Smith did well with 21 carries for more than 100 yards, but the Minnesota running game is set up to be a role split. Smith did have a mild ankle sprain, but returned. According to the coaching staff, the Gophers used QB Mitchell Leidner as a runner more, which carries its own risks.
So will Brooks be there this week? No one seems to know, and Minnesota has this locked up tight ahead of its game with Nebraska. There’s not even a real hint of the injury, though Brooks had a foot issue early in the year. He missed some practice ahead of last week’s scratch and didn’t play, so if we take Claeys at his word that he doesn’t like playing guys under 100 percent, Brooks probably won’t play. And if he does, will be in a limited role.