Jul 24, 2013, 2:35 PM EST
When Chip Kelly introduced his coaching staff back in February, we saw the newly created position of sports science coordinator and wondered what exactly Shaun Huls does. Is that a glorified strength and conditioning coach? Is he the one responsible for the smoothies?
Sadly, Chip offered little in the way of insight, and Huls’ role has remained shrouded in mystery… until now. Over at The MMQB web site – Sports Illustrated’s brand new football-only haven – Jenny Vrentas gives us our first meaningful peak into what exactly this former performance coach for the Navy SEALs has been up to for the Eagles. Well, as much as she can anyway. The organization still isn’t forthcoming with details, and players are guarded when pressed about it as well.
“I don’t know if I’m supposed to,” Barwin said, glancing around after an organized team activities session in May. “I don’t want to, like, give up secrets?”
On Chip Kelly’s Eagles this is the new normal. Science and technology are part of nearly everything the team does. But the why and the how are treated like classified information.
Despite the immense secrecy behind Huls’ and his programs, Vrentas does an amazing job of getting to the bottom of what’s going on inside the dark corners of the NovaCare Complex these days. That said, she’s probably only scraping the surface. The Eagles invested one million dollars into technology upgrades during the offseason, and while we now know what some of those things are for, we still can’t say for sure how everything is implemented.
But remaking a program through the application of sports science is a bigger and more multifaceted undertaking. The premise is simple: Teams invest millions in players; why not devote significant resources, including a dedicated position on the coaching staff, to a cutting-edge approach that will help keep players on the field and maximize their performance? In mid-March, the Eagles began developing something of a sports-science laboratory. Team president Don Smolenski told the Philadelphia Inquirer the team invested more than $1 million in equipment and technology upgrades this offseason. In keeping with the air of secrecy, the companies that provided the technology were reluctant to share specifics of how the Eagles are using their devices.
The array of technology creates a physiological dashboard for each player. Among the equipment: Catapult Sports’ OptimEye sensors, which Barwin was wearing; heart-rate monitors from Polar; an Omegawave system that measures an athlete’s readiness for training and competition; and weight-lifting technology from a company named EliteForm, with 3-D cameras that record not just how much an athlete is lifting but how quickly he is doing it. There is also the low-tech end: Players are asked to urinate in a cup before practice to check their hydration levels.
The result is a data-driven approach to training, which is compatible with and perhaps even necessary for the way Kelly coaches. In the up-tempo style he brought from Oregon—the Ducks averaged more than 81 offensive plays per game last season—players are perpetually on the move. Some sports scientists, like the University of Connecticut’s William Kraemer, say research does not support the perception that an up-tempo pace imposes extreme fitness and recovery demands. But even so, sports-science technology can play an important role in preventing overuse, overtraining and the often accompanying soft-tissue injuries.
“Everyone is saying that going at this pace, people are going to burn out,” says offensive tackle Dennis Kelly, “but they’re making sure we’re getting the rest we need to recover.”
Vrentas also provides a little more background about the man himself, including how Huls came to develop many of the techniques that were once being implemented by our armed forces. Now they are going to work in pro football.
It’s one of the more fascinating reads in some time. The Eagles are doing some incredibly innovative, even groundbreaking things with regard to how they prepare and train, and while nobody knows for certain whether any of this stuff will work or not – at least as it relates to wins and losses – it certainly can’t hurt. Phenomenal work here, check it out.
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