The Atlanta Falcons were back at the Branch this week preparing for their upcoming game against the Dolphins. The team is on the road again on Saturday in the third week of the 2015 preseason.
When Devonta Freeman learned Kelvin Benjamin tore an ACL and will miss all of 2015, he decided not to contact his friend and college teammate.
Freeman, who's presently nursing a hamstring injury, believes constant attention is one of the most frustrating parts of recovery. Call after call, text after text, tweet after tweet, the widespread concern—though well-intentioned—can become overwhelming.
So the Florida State product will give his former cohort space, for now. Maybe he'll get in touch next week. Maybe not. Regardless, Freeman won't pick up the phone if he thinks doing so will be detrimental.
Because, as he and several other Falcons intimated on Tuesday, having the right mentality when it comes to health is imperative to enjoying a long, effective career.
"Kelvin, we basically grew up together. But I want to let him get over it," said Atlanta's second-year running back. "I'm still praying for him."
The NFL's glut of recent injuries has reminded us how quickly (and unexpectedly) an individual's season can unravel. It can be argued that the most troublesome detail of Benjamin's catastrophe is how it went down: No one tackled him; he tore a ligament by simply planting his left leg in an attempt to change directions.
Jordy Nelson's mishap on Sunday was another non-contact fluke. He leapt to make a routine grab in a preseason contest against Pittsburgh, and when he hit the ground, his left knee twisted just enough to cause serious damage. Like Benjamin, he won't be able to return until next season.
According to Freeman, it's crucial to unearth positives from such obstacles. Sulking accomplishes nothing; going on autopilot doesn't lead to improvements, either. The key is to better oneself in any way possible—even when stepping on the gridiron isn't an option.
"This is God's way of teaching us how to take care of our bodies," Freeman said. "I'm blessed and I'm thankful. Now I focus more on how to study film, the little stuff. Because in football, the mental side is more important than the physical."
It's also important for athletes to put their faith in medical professionals. For these hyper-competitive men, it can be natural to push themselves as soon as they feel ready. However, rushing back can often result in long-term consequences. The key, as Freeman put it, is to know the difference between being hurt and being injured.
Currently recuperating from a wounded shoulder, cornerback Desmond Trufant understands this as well as anyone.
"It's on the docs," he said. "I'm just taking it day by day. But whatever the training staff wants me to do—I just want to be smart. It's a long season. Whatever they need me to do, I'm ready."
When talents like Benjamin and Nelson suffer devastating setbacks, players are quick to notice and offer sympathy. The Falcons' locker room was abuzz when news broke of their misfortunes, and, per Trufant, reaction was universally solemn.
The NFL is a brotherhood, he mentioned, and the hope is everyone can participate at all times.
But that's not the reality of this sport. It never will be. Injuries are certain, and someone—a starting quarterback, a flashy wideout, a defensive leader—will always be on the shelf. Always. Those in the league must cope with this reality and use it to shape their unique perspectives.
"It's a job, it's a business," said Freeman. "So you have to approach like, 'If you can go out there, go get it. If you can't so be it.' So you always have to take it day by day."
"You can't think about injuries," Trufant explained. "If you try to avoid getting hurt, that's usually when you do. It sucks when guys go down—especially when it's serious. You just have to count your blessings, because you never know when it will be your last play."