Among the hot topics that arose during the NFL regular season was the injury bug. Even the best teams seemed to have lost key players at an unusually high rate.
In various manners, injuries affected the seasons of NFL talent from the Joliet area. We begin with Coby Fleener.
The New Orleans Saints tight end, a Lemont native, Joliet Catholic Academy graduate and former Stanford standout, suffered a concussion Nov. 26 during the Saints’ 26-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. He had made one catch for 8 yards before being injured.
The next week, on Dec. 2, the Saints placed him on injured reserve, which does not normally happen with a concussion. However, he also had an incident in training camp, and the concussion suffered against the Rams reportedly was the fifth of his career.
Fleener enjoyed a big game
Nov. 19, the week before he was injured, in a 34-31 overtime win over Washington as he caught five passes for 91 yards. He had not been targeted as often as usual this season, as the wild-card Saints leaned more heavily on the running game, and he finished with 22 receptions for 295 yards and two touchdowns. Although the numbers are relatively low, he was leading Saints tight ends in receptions before being sidelined.
For his career, which began in 2012 with the Indianapolis Colts, Fleener has 255 catches for 3,080 yards, a 12.1-yards-a-catch average, and 22 touchdowns. Last season, his first in New Orleans, he caught 50 for 631 yards and three touchdowns.
Next up, Kapri Bibbs.
The former Plainfield North all-state running back, who was hugely productive in his one season at Colorado State, was a beneficiary of the Washington Redskins’ rash of injuries at running back late in the season.
Bibbs, who was released by the San Francisco 49ers just before the season, signed with the Redskins and played in their final three games. He finished with 21 rushes for 79 yards, a 3.8 average, including 12 carries for 47 yards in Washington’s 18-10 victory over the New York Giants in the finale.
In addition, Bibbs also proved he can catch the ball out of the backfield, which only helps his cause heading into the offseason. He caught 14 passes for 128 yards with one touchdown. That included eight receptions for 53 yards against the Giants.
Coming out of LSU, former Lemont all-stater Ethan Pocic was rated one of the top centers in the nation. He also had the ability to play any position on the offensive line.
The Seattle Seahawks drafted Pocic in the second round, and he played in all 16 games, including 11 starts.
He was at right guard Sunday, when the Seahawks lost to the Arizona Cardinals, 26-24. He left the game after injuring his right leg, and at the time, it reportedly looked serious.
However, Pocic this week told a Seattle reporter that the injury is not that serious, and that he will not require surgery. A big benefit there is he will be able to hit the weight room hard sooner than later. Pocic’s report card for 2017 indicates he is an excellent technician, but needs to add strength to reach his potential.
• Veteran tight end Clay Harbor (Dwight, Missouri State) has been on injured reserve all season with the New Orleans Saints. Assuming complete recovery for both, he and Fleener may be among those competing for playing time next season.
• The New York Giants placed offensive guard Adam Gettis (Lincoln-Way East, Iowa) on injured reserve Aug. 28 and released him with a settlement in mid-November. He signed with Tampa Bay on Dec. 20 and played the final two games of the season with the Buccaneers.
ALSO ON THE FIELD
• Second-year strong safety Clayton Fejedelem (Lemont), who spent two seasons at Saint Xavier and two at Illinois, played in all 16 games with the Cincinnati Bengals. He made five starts and finished with 57 tackles, including 34 solo, and had his first career interception in a 31-7 win over Cleveland in Week 4. He had two big games in succession late in the season, making 11 stops with six solo in a 33-7 loss to the Bears in Week 14 and nine tackles with four solo in a 34-7 Week 15 loss to Minnesota.
• Second-year linebacker Antonio Morrison (Bolingbrook, Florida) finished 2017 as the Indianapolis Colts’ leading tackler. He made 109 stops with 65 solo. That was after he made 160 total tackles his rookie season.
• Morrison’s teammate, Josh Ferguson (JCA, Illinois), rushed only once for 5 yards this season and caught three passes for 16 yards. He was signed to the Colts’ pracitce squad during the season and was added to the active roster in October.
• Linebacker B.J. Bello (Lincoln-Way West), who spent time at Illinois and Illinois State, was with the Cleveland Browns all season and made five solo tackles and six total stops.
• Dick Goss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.