Sunday, July 30, 2017

After John Sullivan debacle, no one should believe Vikings on Riley Reiff

New Vikings left tackle Riley Reiff suffered some kind of injury on the first day of training camp and has not been seen on the practice field since. This has Vikings fans understandably nervous, in light of last year's rash of offensive line injuries. "Oh no here we go again," is the general sentiment being expressed by fans. The team naturally is downplaying the severity of the injury while releasing the usual statements about how they have total faith in the backup, in this case Rashod Hill. It's all pretty standard stuff from the team and no one should believe for a single second that even one syllable of it is remotely accurate. Most likely, the Vikings are lying to hide the severity of Riley Reiff's injury. And you know what? I don't even blame them for doing it. Teams lie all the time, and they lie for good reasons. But a lie with a sound motivation behind it is still a lie.

Sure, it's perfectly possible that Riley Reiff is okay and everyone is being a little too "the earth is falling" about his condition. Again, such doom-and-gloom is perfectly understandable given the battering fans' psyches took last season with all the injuries and then the collapse after 5-0. Viking fans know how this routine works. There's optimism going into the season, and optimism is almost always rewarded with miserable failure. So maybe Riley Reiff is really fine...but probably he's actually hurt and the team is hiding the severity of his injury for tactical reasons and because they don't want to put a damper on the optimism of training camp. It's the last year in Mankato and they don't want to ruin it with some Debbie Downer stuff about how Riley Reiff, the left tackle they signed for $58 million this offseason, is probably going miss significant time. So until the time comes when they have to make a call on Reiff's status one way or another, they're going to keep saying he's fine. Mike Zimmer, Mr. Tell It Like It Is, is going to keep saying it's not severe...just like he did with John Sullivan, who ended up needing two back surgeries after repeatedly being declared fine.

As fans will remember, it was two years ago that Sullivan went down with a training camp injury that ended up wiping out his entire season. The Vikings in that instance publicly downplayed the severity of the injury, insisting Sullivan was just suffering from back spasms and would "be fine." But week after week Sullivan was held out of practice, until just before the start of the season he was placed on IR-to-return. Even then the Vikings remained optimistic, at least in their public statements, about Sullivan's ability to return. Until Sullivan underwent back surgery and it became clear to everyone that the Pro Bowl-caliber center would not be returning (pretty bad back spasms!). Fortunately for the Vikings, Sullivan's fill-in Joe Berger played exceptionally well in his stead, so well that the following season after Sullivan was healthy again Berger flat out beat him in camp, leading to Sullivan's ultimate release.

Whether the Sullivan situation was a case of the Vikings convincing themselves the player would be okay and being blind-sided by the severity of his injury, or (as is more likely) it was a case of the team knowing the injury was bad and flat-out lying about it, makes no difference. The point is the same either way: Never believe anything the team says about any injured player, ever. Teams will try to finesse a player back to health, hoping that surgery isn't necessary, until the surgery becomes absolutely necessary. And when a player is really injured but for tactical reasons they don't want anyone to know, they will look you right in the eye and tell a falsehood. Regardless of the motivations, the end result is that false information is fed to fans all the time about injuries and no one should ever believe a single word that is said by coaches, front office folks or team-connected reporters. When will I believe Riley Reiff is really okay? When I see him lining up at left tackle for the season opener against the Saints.

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