Fans talked to each other, or through radio talk shows and Internet message boards about Newman “breaking down.” Some wondered aloud “why he can’t stay healthy.” Others raised concerns about his age, and whether this latest injury was an indication that Newman’s career is nearing its end.
If there’s a player for whom this attitude does not apply, it’s Newman.
Yes, groin injuries can be dicey, and can linger if a player pushes himself to return before he is 100 percent healthy. Depending on where the pull occurs, such injuries can affect a player’s speed, quickness when starting and stopping, leaping ability and overall explosiveness. Returning too quickly can result in an additional strain, or possibly even a tear in the same area.
But the idea that Newman is a fragile player who breaks down easily simply isn’t accurate. Yes, he has some mileage on his tires — the 2011 season will be his ninth in the NFL, and he will turn 33 years old in early September — but the fact is that Newman has been remarkably tough and durable since the Cowboys drafted him out of Kansas State with the fifth pick in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft.
The 2007 and 2008 seasons were the only ones in which Newman didn’t play — and start — 16 games.
In 2007, he missed the first two games of the season with a foot injury, and sat out the Cowboys’ loss to the Washington Redskins in the regular-season finale while resting a knee injury he suffered the week before … and still earned a berth in the Pro Bowl.
The next season, he missed six games with what was called a “slight tear” in his groin and subsequent sports hernia surgery. So there is some precedent with his current injury, but they are three years apart. It’s not as if Newman hadn’t allowed his previous injury to heal and hurt it again as a result of impatience.
Even as the elder statesman among Dallas cornerbacks, Newman remains the team’s best player at his position. While he heals, the cornerback rotation will include players like Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick, Bryan McCann, Alan Ball and fifth-round pick Josh Thomas, but even as they all learn new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s new defensive system, Newman is the leader of the group. Some have suggested that even after the Cowboys swung and missed at the prize of this year’s free agent class, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, the time has come for Newman to be replaced — a sentiment that could not be more wrong.
Ryan already has raved about Newman’s talent and intellect. It is not believed that Ryan will repeat the Cowboys’ approach last season, when they opened the season with just three cornerbacks (Newman, Jenkins and Scandrick) on the roster. McCann was released, picked up briefly by Baltimore, and when the Ravens released him, the Cowboys brought him back.
Which players end up making the final roster remains to be seen, but the fact that Jenkins, Scandrick — and despite the inaccurate perception of physical decline, Newman — will make the roster is one of the safest bets in this summer’s training camp.