ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Patriots coach Bill Belichick is blaming recently instituted NFL rules shortening offseason practice time for what he claims to be an increasing number of player injuries.
"I'm in favor of total preparation for the players for the season," Belichick said during a conference call with Buffalo reporters this week in leading up to New England's home game against the Bills on Sunday. "And I think that's been changed significantly and, I would say, not necessarily for the better when you look at the injury numbers."
Belichick said players are more vulnerable to being hurt because they're less prepared, and described the limits placed on offseason workouts — including training camp — as being counterproductive.
"Personally, I think that's taking the wrong approach," he said. "You have a gap between preparation and competition level. And I think that's where you see a lot of injuries occurring. We get a lot of breakdowns. We get a lot of situations that players just aren't as prepared as they were in previous years, in my experience anyway."
Belichick was specifically challenging several new rules negotiated into the NFL labor deal that ended an offseason-long lockout in 2011.
Teams were prevented from holding two-a-day practices during training camp. Limits were also placed on how many times players practiced in pads throughout the year. In the spring, offseason team activity time was reduced from 14 to nine weeks (10 if the team changed head coaches).
What's in question is whether injuries are, in fact, on the rise in the NFL, as Belichick suggested.
Though he didn't cite specific numbers, Belichick said he was citing "a matter of record not opinion," in saying injuries league-wide have been on the rise over the past three years.
League spokesman Michael Signora disputed Belichick's assertions.
"We carefully monitor player injuries," Signora said. "There is no evidence that the new work rules have had an adverse effect on the injury rate or that injuries have in fact increased."
The NFL declined to released its numbers. But according to STATS, the number of NFL players finishing a season on injured reserve has risen significantly over the past 14 seasons.
From 2000-06, there was an average of 239 players on IR. That average has jumped to about 314 over the past seven years.
The low over that span was 192 in 2001, with the high being 353 in 2010, but that was before the new offseason rules came into effect.
As of Monday, there were 288 players on IR, the lowest total since 287 in 2008.
Those figures, however, don't include players who have been on injured reserve and released by their teams during the season.
It has also been difficult to measure how many regulars have missed games due to injury.
The Patriots (11-4) have been beset by a rash of injuries to key contributors this season. They have six starters on IR, including tight end Rob Gronkowski (right knee), offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, linebacker Jerod Mayo, defensive lineman Vince Wilford (Achilles tendon) and safety Adrian Wilson.
Belichick insists injuries are up.
"When you see the number as high as they are, then I don't think that's a randomness that's been two years in a row," Belichick said. "I've got to think there's some correlation there."