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Nick Westbrook is out for the season. Could this have been prevented?

Losing a 1,000-yard receiver to a torn ACL on a special teams play is unfortunate. It’s also part of the game.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

An injury on the first play of the game against Ohio State sidelined Nick Westbrook for the entire night.

Today, we learned that he’s out with for the season after tearing his ACL.

The news is terrible on all fronts. With 995 yards last season, Westbrook was the leading returning wide receiver in the Big Ten coming into 2017. Westbrook was expected to again play a major role in the Indiana offense. The Solid Verbal podcast called him a “Dude Alert” on their B1G preview. But on the first play of the season, in which Ohio State returned a kickoff to start the game, Westbrook hurt his knee while helping with kick coverage.

This begs the question: Why the heck was Indiana’s 1,000-yard receiver playing special teams to begin with?

Well, for one, he may not have even been a starter this year! Indiana’s two-deep had him listed behind both Simmie Cobbs (who suffered an ACL last season but balled out on Thursday night) and Donovan Hale, who played admirably as the WR2 last night. Westbrook was listed behind the two, and as a result, likely got pushed to special teams coverage.

But even if he had been listed at WR1, maybe Westbrook would still have been still out there on special teams. In his press conference this morning, Tom Allen explained the importance of having your best players out there in the third component of the game:

Allen went on to mention that Alabama running back Damien Harris, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last year, blocked a punt against FSU on Saturday night. And that’s Alabama, the team with the most depth and best recruits in the entire country.

To be fair to Allen, I appreciate him being up-front about this, especially after the player safety concerns at IU last year, as well as how guarded some head coaches generally are with their media availability (looking your way, Texas). Personally, I’d want Westbrook rested for the first offensive series, and not out on special teams coverage, but I also haven’t been watching training camp every day, and Allen gets paid to know the program best of anyone. Maybe Westbrook was a monster on special teams coverage in practice? I have no idea and most likely, neither do you.

Unfortunately, injuries happen frequently in this game. And at the end of the day, they’re a byproduct of playing football. It’s a dangerous sport by nature. And kickoffs are especially dangerous.

Simmie Cobbs tore his ACL last year against Ball State - on his first play of the season (he was suspended for the opener against FIU). Julian Edelman tore his ACL in the preseason for the Patriots this year. And the Colts (in typical Colts fashion) have been silent about how the extent of Andrew Luck’s injuries, or how long he may have to miss. Westbrook could have been injured on the first offensive series, or he could have had another 1,000-yard season - who knows?

But we won’t know now and it’s not worth playing the “what-if?” game on a season with 11 regular season games still remaining. Luckily for IU, wide receiver has good depth this year, and hopefully one of the backups, such as Whop Phillyor or Ty Fryfogle, steps up in Westbrook’s absence while he makes a full recovery for 2018.