The season has kicked off and the injuries are getting tallied up faster than some teams are scoring.
I’m Will Carroll and I’m happy to be joining Land of 10 for the 2016 season. I’ve spent the past two decades watching and researching injuries across sports. You might think injuries are “just part of the game,” but nothing can derail a team like an injury to a star player. Enough of those and your team can quickly go from a bowl you’ve heard of to a bowl you didn’t even know existed. I’ll be watching all the teams across the Big Ten to tell you how the injury will affect the player, the team and who’ll be playing in Tampa in January. Let’s take a look:
Schedules are made years in advance, but Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has to be happy about how his team’s 2016 schedule is playing out. His rebuilding program has come fast and is back in contention, but as always injuries can derail a top team as fast as a big upset. There’s a number of guys working their way back from injury who don’t have to rush. That could be an incredible advantage as Michigan starts its season.
Harbaugh held out several players altogether, including Taco Charlton and Jourdan Lewis, and rested De’Veon Smith as the lead got bigger and bigger against Hawaii. Central Florida and Colorado are ahead and neither should be much of a challenge for the Wolverines. In fact, Michigan could essentially take all of September off ahead of its Oct. 1 clash with Wisconsin to get healthy if needed.
Shannon Brooks, RB, Minnesota
Minnesota is an intriguing team this season, but they’ll need Shannon Brooks, their top rusher last season, to step up his game even more. To do that, he’ll have to be healthy. His foot injury kept him out of the opener, and with Indiana State up next, the team is iffy on his return. Given the matchup, it shouldn’t hurt if he’s missing, but the team would like to get him back on the field to test the stability and see where he’ll be.
The team does have a week off between Indiana State and Colorado State, so they could elect to let Brooks rest one more game to make sure the foot is fully healed. Rodney Smith filled in ably at running back, going for 125 yards against Oregon State, but he’s not the game breaker that Brooks can be. They’ll go further with both available.
Taivon Jacobs, WR, Maryland
The Terps got new coach DJ Durkin his first win, but beating Howard isn’t much besides a lid-lifter. The rebuilding job has a long way to go, and they’ll get more of a test against Florida International. FIU has been a cupcake slot on many Big Ten schedules over the years, but they’re a credible team that will be a measuring stick for where Maryland is and just how bad things will be for them this season.
One thing they’d like to see is Taivon Jacobs on the field for that game, but he continues to miss practice time as his reputation as “talented but fragile” grows. Jacobs has already missed a season with an ACL reconstruction and a meniscectomy, but speculation that he’s dealing with another knee injury is growing after he hasn’t returned from a spring injury. Jacobs is NFL-fast, but the uptempo offense Maryland has installed is also deep. The faster Jacobs gets back, the better it will be, but he’s not going to automatically get his targets back either.
R.J. Shelton, WR, Michigan State
Michigan State doesn’t comment on injuries, but it’s easy to see what happened with R.J. Shelton. Shelton had two touches in the Spartans’ opener, then left with a limp. Sources tell me that he’s dealing with a minor strain, likely to his hamstring. I’m told he could have returned, but against Furman there was just no need. Shelton may miss a little practice time but should be ready for a much bigger workload against Notre Dame in two weeks.
There is some worry in East Lansing that Shelton is going to deal with these kinds of concerns all year long. Durability is one of the few skills that Shelton hasn’t demonstrated, but there’s plenty of depth at the wide receiver position, if not at the “F” slot where Shelton lines up. His speed is his biggest asset, so muscular injuries can sap that or cost him targets down the line. It’s something to keep an eye on as the team heads into what should be a tough season.