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Too many carries can hamper even the best tailbacks

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Latest: Thursday August 31, 2000 11:47 PM

  Eddie George After 1,360 carries in four seasons, could Eddie George be the next running back to go down with an injury? Allsport

By Desmond M. Wallace,

Back in 1998 when the Denver's Terrell Davis and Atlanta's Jamal Anderson combined to carry the ball a whopping 802 times, some football observers wondered whether the two star running backs were literally being run into the ground.

After all, prior to Davis' arrival, no Denver player had ever notched more than 296 rushes in a single season. And before Anderson made Atlanta his home, no player anywhere in the history of the NFL had ever carried the ball more than the Falcon back's 410 rushing attempts that season.

Those quiet concerns about possible overwork seemed to gain full-scale legitimacy early in 1999. In Week 2, Anderson made a cut on the turf on his third carry of the game at Texas Stadium, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The year before, Anderson had run for a franchise-record 1,846 yards.

And in Week 4 of '99 -- just two weeks after Anderson crumbled to Earth -- Davis tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his season. In 1998 Davis became just the fourth back ever to eclipse the 2,000-yard barrier, having galloped for 2,008 for the Broncos.

Davis' October injury occurred as he attempted a tackle after a first-quarter Denver interception. With Davis and Anderson busy nursing their serious knee injuries, the Broncos and Falcons, which had each been Super Bowl participants just months earlier, plummeted to 6-10 and 5-11 records respectively.

Carry-over effect?
The active running backs with the most carries the last four seasons.
Player  Carries 
Eddie George  1,360 
Curtis Martin  1,326 
Emmitt Smith  1,236 
Jerome Bettis  1,310 
Ricky Watters  1,282 
Terrell Davis  1,173 
Adrian Murrell  1,068 
Marshall Faulk  1,039 
Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar   1,003 
Can a case be made that Davis' and Anderson's work load may have contributed to the injuries suffered subsequently? Of course, no one knows for sure but an examination of the football careers of the five players with the most single-season carries reveals that no less than four of them suffered serious leg injuries within a couple of years of their monster ground-gaining seasons. (The fifth -- James Wilder -- suffered rib injuries which caused him to miss some action).

Less than two years after registering three consecutive seasons of at least 340 carries, including a then-NFL record 397 rushes in 1985, the Falcons' Gerald Riggs damaged ligaments in his left knee. Following 1988 -- the season of that knee injury -- Riggs would rush just 402 more times in his career.

Within two years of 404- and 388-carry campaigns by 1988, Eric Dickerson went on to suffer hamstring ailments. Even he -- one of the league's all-time rushing kingpins -- would go on to play just one full season thereafter.

So despite their no doubt diligent rehab efforts since last fall, Davis and Anderson may have more work ahead of them than even they realize.

Wear and Tear
Tailbacks with heavy workloads over the years tend to have a breaking point.
Player  Years  Carries
(avg. per season) 
rest of career 
Jamal Anderson  1996-98  930 (311) 
Terrell Davis  1995-98  1,343 (335) 
James Wilder  1984-85  772 (386)  474 
Eric Dickerson  1983-89  2,450 (350)  546 
Gerald Riggs  1984-87  1,296 (324)  402 

Related information
NFL Week 1, By The Numbers
A kneed to succeed
Anderson confident, but Falcons remain cautious
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