I mentioned Sports Science in a recent post and that created a lengthy discussion in the comments section. This is a bit of a mystery topic since the Eagles are very guarded with the information they share, but we do know a few things.
All 32 teams do strength and conditioning. All 32 talk about nutrition and the ways to improve your body. The point of Sports Science is that Chip Kelly takes it to the next level. He literally has tried to make it into a science.
Eagles players are tested and monitored more than most teams, if not all teams. Remember that Kelly is Mr. Why. He loves to know why things happen, why things work a certain way. You can’t deal with those questions if you don’t have specific answers. Kelly has studied the way his players react to various activities and situations. This is not anecdotal research.
Kelly wants to know how to train his players in the offseason. How should they weight-train? What is the best way to practice in the spring and summer? His thoughts on nutrition and rest may differ during the season or that could be areas where he believes you should do the same thing year round.
During the season, the Eagles have a different weekly set-up than the other 31 teams. They get Monday off and practice Tuesday. They also have a “run-through” on Saturday, when most teams do an extremely casual walk-through. Kelly knows when and how to push muscles, but also how to let them recover for the best results. That is hugely important for players being able to stay fresh during the grind of a long season.
Kelly’s ideas also apply to the players the Eagles acquire. Go to the Combine or Senior Bowl and you’ll see Eagles personnel walking around and measuring the wrists and ankles of prospects. The Eagles are trying to study the frame of the individual players. A 255-pound LB should have wrists of a certain size. If not, maybe he’s carrying too much weight. Or maybe he’s simply maximized how much he will grow. The Eagles gather a tremendous amount of data on players and then use that to help them identify the players they want.
Bennie Logan seemed small for a NT at 6-2, 309. The Eagles studied his frame and felt he could bulk up to 320 pounds, but retain his athleticism. Any player can add weight (except Todd Pinkston, of course), but you want the right kind of weight. It needs to help the player and not slow him down in a noticeable way.
The Sports Science program gives the Eagles an advantage. How much of one is yet to be determined. First, we don’t know a lot about the long term effects. This is the first time these specific ideas have been applied to the NFL that I know of. In 3 or 4 years, the Eagles will have more data to study and they will adjust what they do for maximum results.
This doesn’t mean that the Eagles are going to have the biggest, strongest or fastest players simply due to Sports Science. I wish it worked like that. This is about the Eagles ability to maximize the health, strength and conditioning of the players they do have. Jordan Matthews will never be as fast as DeSean Jackson. That’s okay. The Eagles need Matthews to be the fastest version of Matthews possible. They want to get the most out of him. By having players get into the right shape, the player should have an increased chance to succeed in the NFL. Some players need more weight. Some less. Some need to be stronger. Others might need increased flexibility. Players need to adjust their bodies to their particular position and the skill set it requires.
I do think Sports Science is going to help players extend their careers. This is just an opinion for now. We need time so we can see some results and study what happened. Sports Science gets players to really take care of their bodies. Obviously that is a good thing. But beyond just being in good shape, the emphasis on recovery should help players for the long haul. This has the players pushing their bodies, but in a smart, healthy way.
One of the things people focus on in regard to Sports Science is how healthy the Eagles were last year.
The result was a veteran group that admitted to getting stronger as the year went on and an avoidance of significant injury during the meat-grinder that is an NFL season.
According to The Dallas Morning News, Eagles players projected as starters missed only 29 games last season, 16 by wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. That was the fourth-lowest total in the NFL in 2013. Only the Jets (20), Chiefs (22) and Redskins (22) had fewer injuries.
Sports science won’t prevent a broken leg or broken arm. In theory, what the Eagles are doing behind the scenes in terms of nutrition, recovery and the other aspects of sports science coordinator Shaun Huls’ strategy that aren’t readily known to the public, are helping the players avoid missing time due to minor ailments such as muscle strains, soft tissue injuries, etc.
“It’s hard to quantify that,” center Jason Kelce said. “There’s definitely a certain amount of luck that goes into it but the team in general puts a lot of emphasis on recovery, rest and making sure that you’re taking care of your body. I’d say that the sports science really played an important impact on [our health] last year.”
Last season, the Eagles led the league with 14 players who started every game.
We need more data to know how much of staying healthy was luck and how much was Sports Science. I have no doubt that there was a mixture of both. Sports Science can’t eliminate ACL tears or broken arms. That stuff is just going to happen. Sports Science takes out the nagging injuries that are more associated with muscles and things of that nature.
One is an event. Two is a trend. Three is a fact. If the Eagles continue to be among the healthiest teams in the league, there will be no mistaking the fact that Sports Science is a major reason why.
The Pickle Juice game was awesome, but I don’t think the Eagles ever had a clear advantage like that again. That was an anomaly. Makes for a good story, but it isn’t going to help take your team to the next level. Sports Science can do that, if it works as well as everyone thinks it will (or already does).
We have to be patient as we wait for data on Sports Science and the NFL, but I’m sure glad the Eagles are at the forefront of this idea. I think it will really benefit the team.
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The man behind the Sports Science program is Shaun Huls. Here is an excellent article on him from MMQB. This is from last year.