The scene would look odd to most people.
On a quiet early morning in July, there’s probably 20 students and staff in a corner of a practice field, all surrounding one player. That player, the biggest non-starter on the team, is lying down. He often falls asleep. Over and over, in different combinations, six to eight of the athletic trainers will lift the player up and onto the cart, practicing as if the player’s life depends on it.
Because it does.
When a player is strapped to the spinal board, his teammates kneeling around him, and carted off with a possible spinal or head injury, it looks routine and simple because of the hours of practice. Even lifting a 300-plus pound player is planned; they know exactly which combo of trainers will lift. Remember that the next time the stadium goes silent.
For now, let’s look at the biggest injuries around the conference.
Wes Lunt, QB, Illinois
Lovie Smith received something he didn’t want, but might have liked. No coach wants to lose a starting quarterback, but losing Wes Lunt to a left leg injury gave Chayce Crouch a chance to show his skill. Lunt has been competent, if uninspiring, on a team that’s offense simply can’t keep up with most teams in the Big Ten. Illinois hasn’t shared specific details about the injury, but the medical staff was clearly looking at his knee. Lunt may need more images (MRI), if they suspect internal damage. The injury happened on a roughing penalty. If Lunt can’t go this week against Rutgers, Crouch looks ready, even if the offense will have to reset to his abilities.
Domonique Young, WR, Purdue
Some injuries are hard to watch. Domonique Young had his knee “come out” on him as he was tackled last week, as Darrell Hazell put it. In the replay, you can see the moment where it pushes past the point it should, his eyes growing large in pain. His arms instinctually start to reach out, but he holds the ball and goes down, rolling further over the ankle. The injury was gruesome, but Purdue has not shared any specific details. A fracture wouldn’t be a surprise. The biggest concern: significant ligament and tendon damage. I don’t want to rule Young out ahead of specifics, but this had the look of a season-ender.
Corey Smith, WR, Ohio State
Smith is having a rough year. After missing all of last year with a devastating leg injury, Smith started his senior season with a significant hamstring strain. He added to that with a broken hand that required a surgical fixation, which has kept him off the field. Smith, a transfer from “Last Chance U” East Mississippi, is having a hard time staying on the field long enough to show off his talent. The Buckeyes’ depth has made it even tougher on Smith to get enough looks, forcing him to special teams. Smith might not be a difference maker, but, even with all the depth, Urban Meyer never has enough. They’ve already lost two receivers this year, so Smith still has a chance to step up, if he can stay healthy.
Saeed Blacknall, WR, Penn State
Sometimes, a broken finger is just a broken finger, but absent any other information, Saeed Blacknall has been dealing with a relatively simply injury for a long period of time. Blacknall first injured his finger in early September, and it was mid-October before he returned. Penn State hasn’t clarified his injury at all, so we don’t know if there were complications, fixations, or even infection – always a risk with a severe injury that breaks skin. Blacknall is back and should mix back into the offense more. With most fractures of this type, there’s few lingering issues besides some weakness, which corrects quickly with use. But if anything is clear here, it’s that this isn’t standard.