For Jansen, Injuries Get 2 Thumbs Down
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Bubba Tyer, the Redskins' director of sports medicine, pulled Joe Bugel, the de facto offensive line coach, aside in the upbeat locker room at FedEx Field several minutes after Sunday's 9-7 victory against the Chicago Bears. Tyer wanted Bugel to sit down so he could break the news about one player's chain of injuries that Tyer had never encountered in more than 30 years as an NFL trainer.
"He said: 'Could you kindly sit down for a minute?' " Bugel recalled. "I said, 'Why, am I sick?' He said, 'You're going to be.' "
Right tackle Jon Jansen had fractured his right thumb, only five days after breaking the left one.
Bugel was stunned not only because of the improbability of the situation, but also because Jansen had been splendid playing with nine fingers -- then later eight -- against Adewale Ogunleye, one of the NFL's better pass rushers.
"As soon as I approached him he said, 'Don't worry, I'll be okay,' " Bugel said. "He didn't want any sympathy. He wants you to think he won't miss a beat. Not many guys would be able to play, let alone practice."
Jansen's second injury comes after Coach Joe Gibbs benched the right-handed Patrick Ramsey in place of Mark Brunell, a lefty. Now, Jansen -- and his two broken thumbs -- will be in more of the spotlight, protecting Brunell's blind side. On Monday, Jansen will start off with at least eight fingers across from fourth-year veteran Kenyon Coleman, who has one NFL start. The Cowboys, however, have a sturdy defensive line -- starring Pro Bowl tackle La'Roi Glover -- and have switched at times to an unconventional 3-4 alignment.
"Obviously, I would rather play with 10 good fingers," Jansen said. "But four on each hand will do."
The 6-foot-6, 306-pound lineman stands out at practice with two splints and two soft casts. According to league rules, such casts are prohibited unless appropriately covered on all edges and surfaces by a minimum of three-eighths of an inch of foam rubber or any similar soft material. Any such item worn to protect an injury must be reported by the coaching staff to the umpire before the game, and a description of the injury must be provided.
Jansen's casts will get smaller each week as his thumbs heal. The casts aren't a cure-all -- toward the end of Thursday's practice Bugel noticed Jansen trying to mask the pain. So Bugel told Jansen to take the rest of practice off.
When Jansen departed Redskins Park yesterday with wife, Martha, each thumb was enveloped by a big bag of ice.
"It's gotta be a pain," said right guard Randy Thomas. "I've never heard of a guy toughening it out with two broken thumbs. That's amazing."
On Sept. 5, Jansen suffered a small fracture at the base of his left thumb during the last offensive series of a practice. Jansen had jammed his thumb while blocking against a defensive lineman. Against the Bears, Jansen doesn't recall exactly how he broke his other thumb but remembers feeling excruciating pain beginning early in the fourth quarter.
The bizarreness of the injuries have brought extra media attention to Jansen this week. When asked what's been the most difficult aspect of the injuries, Jansen responded, half-jokingly, "Answering all the questions about it."
On the field, it's getting used to blocking defensive ends without the use of at least one thumb, and having the confidence to punch with the injuries.
The splints "take the pressure off my thumb, and it doesn't hurt," Jansen said. "But I just have to get the confidence to throw it in there."
Jansen isn't a gifted athlete like left tackle Chris Samuels, yet Jansen is known for polished technique, using his hands and exploiting angles. Because of the injuries, a significant hindrance is good hand placement -- getting hold of a defensive lineman, sometimes grabbing his shirt. (Reserve offensive lineman Ray Brown noted that one drawback for Jansen is not being able to push his palms against a defensive lineman's shoulder pads.)
Jansen said he still relies on his technique to overcome his disadvantages. The cast allows Jansen full use of his other fingers, so he can clutch and grab to a point.
One advantage is Jansen almost certainly won't be called for holding. "I would have a good argument," Jansen said, grinning.
Teammates have tried to help Jansen cope with his situation through pranks and frat-house humor. Jansen was stumped when asked to give a joke that could be printed in a family newspaper: "I haven't heard any rated-PG-13 ones. I really would rather not get into it."
Reserve center Cory Raymer, the lead prankster among offensive linemen, admitted unsuccessfully searching for a bidet at several Home Depots in Virginia. Raymer had intended to have it gift-wrapped and presented to Jansen last Monday night. "I couldn't find a bidet to safe my life," Raymer said, voice tinged with disappointment. "But I had short notice."
When Jansen ties his shoes in the locker room after great effort, his teammates sometimes untie them. "You can come up with a million jokes," Raymer said.
Since the injuries, Jansen has kept his helmet on almost the entire practices. His linemates consider it an act of machismo, given the sweltering heat. "He can't remove his chinstrap," Raymer said. "So he keeps his helmet on."
Despite Jansen's bad luck with injuries early in the season, it's an improvement over last year. In the 2004 preseason opener, Jansen tore his Achilles' tendon, forcing him to miss the rest of the year. Before the injury, Jansen had started 80 consecutive NFL games. Jansen also set a school record at the University of Michigan by starting 50 straight games.
The 1999 second-round pick had maintained his streaks by occasionally playing with broken fingers. But as Jansen said of the thumb injuries, "It is a first for me."