Injuries are an inevitable part of football, and many would argue that they are the worst part. For NFL players who spend their entire offseasons training their bodies, envisioning an opportunity to advance their careers and help their teams, it can be devastating to land on injured reserve. There’s a physical and mental toll on players as they disappear from the sight of fans, media and even coaches when their seasons end abruptly due to injury.
“As crazy as it might sound, it’s not a lot we can do to convince somebody how hard we work when we’re not playing,” said safety DeAngelo Hall, who spent time on the IR last season.
“Like a guy on the practice squad, he’s a guy that nobody ever sees on Sunday, but Monday through Friday, they’re the hardest working guys on the roster because they’re asked to do so much more on the football field that never gets noticed by the outside public. Being on IR is kind of similar to that from a mental standpoint. We’re doing all the grunt work behind the scenes as opposed to the forefront.”
Four Washington Redskins players who have landed on injured reserve over the past four years — tight end Niles Paul, left guard Shawn Lauvao, outside linebacker Junior Galette and right tackle Morgan Moses — opened up about their experiences.
Niles Paul, tight end
Paul, 27, is entering his seventh NFL season, but he said he feels he has to prove himself all over again. The past two seasons, he has spent three times as many games on injured reserve (24) as he has on the field. Paul missed the entire 2015 season because of an ankle injury suffered in the preseason opener. He returned last year and was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 7, a week after suffering a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
Four days later, Paul was named the Redskins’ Ed Block Courage Award recipient, given annually to a player from each NFL team that displays “extraordinary courage in the face of adversity,” for returning to the field following the ankle injury. It was a bittersweet moment.
“Just imagine playing football all of your life and not being able to do what you love,” Paul said at the Ed Block Courage Award reception in March. “You’ve got to sit back and watch other people do what you love.”
Paul hadn’t sat out a season since he was “9 or 10 years old.” He fractured a foot in college at Nebraska but missed just two games. That was his most significant injury before 2015.
“The hardest part was staying out of the depression you go in when you get injured,” Paul said.
The ankle injury created one of the toughest challenges he has faced in his career. Paul recalled attending his first regular season game in 2015, a Week 13 Monday night matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, and how emotional he felt.
“It was a battle I had to overcome mentally,” Paul said. “It was a depressing time in my life, and most people don’t understand how hard it is for players. We’re humans at the end of the day. No matter what we claim to be, superheroes or whatever, at the end of the day, we’re humans. Going through something like that, it felt like I was at the pit of my career.”
Paul was often frustrated during training camp last year. He was bumped down to the third tight end on the depth chart, behind Jordan Reed and free agent acquisition Vernon Davis, and served as the team’s fullback. The niche role was the only way he could contribute on offense, until Paul suffered the shoulder injury while laying out for an overthrown pass.
“I put my body on the line just for a catch that I knew at the time was probably not catchable, but I wanted to do some freak of nature stuff just to earn my stripes back again,” Paul said. “I feel like from 2014 until now, I’m back in the beginning stages of my career where I’ve got to earn my stripes again on the field.”
The tight end position has been even more competitive this summer with the addition of Jeremy Sprinkle, a fifth-round pick out of Arkansas. Paul will have to fight for a spot on the 53-man roster.
“I don’t want to go back to how far I was, or how low I felt,” Paul said. “You’ve got to keep yourself motivated, keep pushing and understand that this is just an injury. It’s just time. Knowing the adversity that I’ve got to face coming back in is that I’ve got to prove myself again.”
Shawn Lauvao, left guard
“Don’t go to the dark side,” Lauvao warned Paul during the 2015 season. It was advice that the left guard needed as well after an ankle injury in Week 3 against the New York Giants ended his season. Lauvao was sidelined for the final 13 regular season games as the Redskins clinched the NFC East division title. It was the first time in his career that his team made the playoffs, and all he could do was watch.
“It’s isolation, honestly, because once you get hurt, man, a lot of it is just you spending time by yourself,” said Lauvao, 29, who is entering his eighth season. “There’s only so much rehab you can do.”
In 2015, he had more surgeries (five) than games played (three). When the players cleaned out their lockers at Redskins Park after the season ended, Lauvao showed up on a scooter, still unable to walk on his own.
The biggest lesson Lauvao learned was that there were two ways he could handle the situation: sulk or push through.
“Do you focus on the problem, or do you focus on solutions?” Lauvao said. “For me, personally, that’s what it was. I think just going through it, you’re either trying to survive or thrive.”
Lauvao said it is common for injured players to become difficult to get along with and disoriented because of how much they put into the game, hoping to receive the same output in return.
“There’s a perception of the game, and there’s the reality,” Lauvao said. “A lot of times for a lot of guys, it’s hard for a lot of them to do self-evaluation — look in the mirror and ask the hard questions.
“The game is not a person,” he said. “It’s just a thing. A lot of guys, they pour a lot into the game thinking it’s going to love ’em back, but it’s just a thing. It’s not going to love you back. I think if you can [understand] that, you’ll be in a better place than before.”
Junior Galette, outside linebacker
Hoping for a fresh start following his release from the New Orleans Saints, Galette signed with the Washington Redskins in 2015 — but things haven’t gone as he hoped. The outside linebacker ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon during his first Redskins training camp, causing him to miss the entire 2015 season, and then he tore his left Achilles’ tendon right before training camp last year.
During two seasons with the Redskins, Galette has played zero games.
“You’re in so much shock that it can actually happen twice,” Galette said.
His recovery process demanded patience, but Galette was itching to get back on the field the first time around. When he could walk again, he couldn’t wait to run. He pushed himself beyond what doctors suggested and suffered the second injury.
“Every week felt like a flashback, like I should be out here right now and help this team,” Galette said. “It got to a point where I didn’t want to watch the games anymore.”
The second time going through the process was tougher than the first.
“I think it was a lot more mental than physical,” Galette said. “The physical, I feel like we’re the best athletes on the planet. You’re going to come back. You know that in the back of your mind. You’re not really concerned about that. It’s just not being able to be around the game, the guys and stuff like this, that you just miss.”
He was transparent with his emotions on social media during that span, expressing periods of both amusement and agony. Galette had been a team captain for the Saints, recording 22 sacks over his final two seasons in New Orleans. It was all taken away because of off-the-field incidents, including a January 2015 arrest for misdemeanor domestic abuse. The charges were dropped a month later, and Galette also won a civil suit in July filed against him from the same incident.
The 29-year-old, entering his eighth year in the NFL, is hoping to recapture the same pass-rushing ability he hasn’t displayed since 2014. The injuries allowed Galette to evaluate his life outside of football.
“When you say, ‘Why am I going through this?’ I don’t think you can find out in this lifetime, or right now,” Galette said. “I probably won’t find out for another 20 years, but I knew I had to change a couple things and the way I was living. I knew that would be the first step. I had to go back to my roots and what got me to be successful, what got me to be a team captain that I kind of strayed away from. I had to go back to the drawing board.
“I did it the first time, but it wasn’t 150 percent all the way in. Now, I’m all in, 150 percent. I’m going to give it all I got and make sure that I gave it my all and not have any regrets.”
Morgan Moses, right tackle
Sometimes, there is good that comes from an injured reserve designation. For Moses, the Redskins’ starting right tackle, it was a significant step in his development. He suffered a foot injury in practice with three weeks left in his rookie season in 2014. The third-round pick out of Virginia had just received his first career start in Week 12, and he was primed to receive more playing time down the stretch. Those opportunities were placed on hold for another nine months.
It was disappointing for Moses, but he was optimistic about his career once he completed the rehab process.
“For me, man, it was the best thing to happen to me,” Moses said. “I was able to sit back, learn the offense and rededicate myself to football.”
He has been the starting right tackle ever since, solidifying a significant position along Washington’s offensive line. He was rewarded this offseason with a five-year deal worth $42.5 million, making him one of the highest-paid right tackles in the NFL.
“It helped me out in the long run, because when I got back, I didn’t miss a beat and was ready to go, man,” Moses said. “I think that was one of the focal points for me in getting the starting job that year coming up.”
Moses credits his family for pushing him through the difficult days, but he also understood that there is very little sympathy in this profession. After all, someone is always waiting to take your job.
“You’ve got to think how many guys leave college locker rooms and don’t make it to the pros,” Moses said. “They’re sitting at home waiting for the phone call. They don’t care if you got hurt. They want that spot. . . . You don’t have time for mental relapses. You’ve got to take it. ‘All right, this is what happened.’ [Think] on it for a minute and just go.”