Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
When training camps open in late summer, NFL coaches and executives cling to what they consider to be a reasonable request: They want their players to stay healthy.
So much goes into putting a roster together, and a team’s postseason potential might hinge on a broken bone or a severed ligament.
It’s no surprise, then, that five of the NFL’s six healthiest teams — based on the number of players on injured reserve — are still alive in the playoffs. The Bears, for instance, put only two players (linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and rookie fullback Harvey Unga) on IR all season.
But three playoff teams defied those challenges, relying on scouts to sign the right players and coaches to fit them into their systems. And two of those personnel executives are protégés of former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf.
The Seattle Seahawks might not have led the NFL in much, eking into the postseason by winning the NFC West with a 7-9 record, but they made a league-high 284 roster moves. Only 21 current players were on the team last season, and the Seahawks put 13 players on IR.
Mentor couldn’t be prouder
The Packers, meanwhile, put 15 players on IR, tied for fifth-most in the NFL, including key players at every position but quarterback.
Wolf couldn’t be prouder of Seahawks general manager John Schneider and Packers general manager Ted Thompson.
“I’m really pleased for them,” Wolf said. “They’re both very hard workers, and they both are very comfortable with their own opinions on who can play and who can’t play.
“It’s kind of nice to see them have some success because it’s a lot tougher business than when I was in it.”
Schneider and Thompson credited Wolf for shaping who they are as scouts and shared one of the core lessons they learned from the man who helped rebuild the Packers into perennial contenders.
“He was very honest with himself,” Thompson said. “ ‘OK, we made a mistake here. Let’s fix this mistake and move on.’
“That’s something that we all have trouble doing sometimes. He didn’t make many mistakes, but when he did, he fixed it.”
Remedy mistakes quickly
In aggressively turning over their roster, the Seahawks reunited USC running back LenDale White with Pete Carroll, his coach with the Trojans. But the Seahawks released White after a week and later acquired Marshawn Lynch in a trade with the Buffalo Bills.
“It’s OK to take risks,” Schneider said, “as long as you admit your mistakes and try to remedy them quickly.”
Schneider and Thompson also credited their coaches for developing the players they brought in.
Schneider said he and Carroll clicked because of a common bond.
“You’re either competing or you’re not in everything that you do,” said Schneider, who was a star running back at Abbot Pennings High in DePere, Wis., just miles from Green Bay.
Said Thompson: “I’m proud of our coaching staff because it’s not an easy thing to keep bringing new guys in and getting them ready.
“But our coaches and players have handled this extraordinarily well. I’m proud of that.”
On further inspection
Injured-reserve figures can be deceiving, especially because inferior teams might shelve players to stockpile them for the future. But roster spots are too valuable on playoff teams.
The Pittsburgh Steelers (six players on IR), Baltimore Ravens (six), New York Jets (five) and Atlanta Falcons (four) were among the six healthiest teams in the league. On the flip side, the Detroit Lions had the most players on IR (18).
Interestingly, two playoff-caliber teams that might have been hampered most were the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars. Both had 17 players on IR, including key players such as tight end Dallas Clark of the Colts and defensive end Aaron Kampman of the Jaguars.
Bears rookie right tackle J’Marcus Webb has been through a rough season, but he might be trending upward, according to Pro Football Focus.
In Week 16 against the New York Jets, Webb didn’t give up a single pressure. In addition, left tackle Frank Omiyale gave up only two pressures and one sack in his last two games.
Within his reach
According to Pro Football Focus, Bears defensive end Julius Peppers ranked second to the Minnesota Vikings’ Kevin Williams with six passes batted down. Williams had nine.
I can’t cover the NFL without . . .
Well, I’m late to the party. But my 3-year-old son and I got an Xbox Kinect for Christmas. Naturally, for professional purposes only, I purchased Madden NFL 11 and usually play a game before I go to bed. It helps me brush up on my strategery (yes, I’m making up words) and have a better feel for personnel. Yeah, that’s why I play it. It’s a tax write-off, right?