Inside Voices: Deeper Into the Sports Science

ryans_400_111113The sleep monitor attached to the player’s wrist begins to gently vibrate when it’s time to wake up.

Instead of a screeching alarm clock that startles you out of your sleep, the device the Eagles wear draws you to consciousness slowly as the vibrations gradually increase.

During the night, the device records when you fell asleep, how well you slept and how many times you woke up during the night. This draws the competitive side out of these athletes. They want to improve those numbers, so they work on it. Maybe they’ll go to bed a half-hour earlier, maybe they’ll alter their night-time routine.

When Najee Goode — the Eagles’ reserve linebacker and special teams player — first moved into his new place, his numbers were terrible. He lives by a train, so his sleep reports weren’t so great early on as he got accustomed to the frequent rattling outside. Now it’s better. He would wake up maybe 10, 12 times during the night. Got it down to eight. Now it’s steadily at five or so.

The players’ sleep reports go right into a computer system that can be accessed by sports science coordinator Shaun Huls. That’s just the beginning of the data that the former Navy Seal trainer collects on a regular basis. At the beginning of each day, the players take a wellness questionnaire on their iPads that asks about body soreness and things of that nature.

“We put that into the computer at the beginning of the day every day, and [assistant strength coach] Keith [Gray0], Shaun and [strength and conditioning coach] Josh [Hingst], they’ll come over right away and say, ‘Alright, you need to do this for today, you need to do that.’ And by Thursday, Friday you’re all well recovered so you’re ready to run on Sunday.”

They collect intel gathered from the sensors that the players wear on the field which measure things like agility, force and acceleration. They chart their performance in the weight room. Part of Huls’ job is to make sense of the information that has been gathered and then structure an individualized plan of attack for that day, that week, etc.

“He’s the guy that’s really like the mathematician, kinda puts all the numbers into words as far as everything we have to do as far as our training, how we’re feeling, stuff like that,” said Goode. “Shaun can interpret our body soreness and help us out as we go towards Sunday.”

Added DeMeco Ryans: “Shaun just does a good job of staying on top of guys, not letting it drift off. He doesn’t go a couple days without asking guys, ‘What’s going on? What are you doing for recovery? How are you feeling?’ That’s one advantage we have, having a sharp guy like Shaun, and Josh in the weight room, to help us individually as players.

“It’s different, and this is the best I’ve felt in my career. I feel like that’s a credit to those guys and what they’re doing.”

The steps needed to quicken the recovery process aren’t always easy.

Goode joked that his first instinct was to find someone to fight when he saw the four-inch needle get pulled out. Blood had been drawn from his arm and put through a process called PRP [platelet-rich plasma], in which platelets that assist in healing are separated from the rest of the blood cells. The high concentrate of platelets are then injected into the injured area in the name of speeding up recovery.

Jay Cutler used PRP this year after tearing his groin muscle. Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward turned to PRP to help get them healed and ready for the Super Bowl in 2009.

In Goode’s case, that needle was headed straight for his hamstring.

“It was probably the worst shot I ever had in my life,” he said, “but right after I got it done that night it felt 10 times better. And it wasn’t nothing crazy, it wasn’t nothing illegal, it wasn’t nothing special, it was just something simple that they did.

“It immediately did the job because when I came back in on a Wednesday I was able to jog, I was able to push, I was able to run a little bit more and I’m able to run a little bit more now. It was crazy.”

Allen, Cooper and free agency

Nate Allen is in the final year of his rookie contract. While that may not have registered on the concern-meter heading into the season, it’s noteworthy now that the safety is playing some good football. We caught up with the former second-round pick to see how he’s looking at the situation.

“It would be good to stay here because, you know, for some stability, and I like it here, like the team, like the coaching staff,” said Allen. “Some guys look at it as a stressful time but it’s interesting [to me], it’s going to be interesting to see what happens. It’s rare that somebody stays somewhere their whole career, so we’ll see what happens, man.”

Allen is finally starting to resemble the player the Eagles envisioned when they selected him with the 37th overall pick in 2010. Now that things appear to be coming together for the 26-year old, there is logic in trying to hold onto him.

The Eagles in recent years have typically avoided doing deals in-season. As far as Allen knows, there haven’t been any substantive talks yet.

“If anything is being said, it’s to my agent. I haven’t heard anything, and don’t listen for it,” said Allen.

Riley Cooper is also scheduled to become a free agent.

“I’ve thought about it, and I know it’s there,” said Cooper, “but it’s something you can’t control so why get your mind so caught up in it where it starts affecting your play?”

Cooper’s situation is unique because of the incident this past offseason. What would the dynamic be like if he was among players who didn’t know him? How desirable would it be to go to a new team and try and earn players’ trust all over again? Plus, Cooper has found success under Kelly. He’s probably in no hurry to separate himself from this offense.

“I want to stay here. I like it here. I’m comfortable here,” said Cooper. “I’ve been here four years. Yeah, this is where I want to be.”

The Eagles will also have to make decisions on Jeremy Maclin and Michael Vick.

Cedric Thornton is another name that comes up, seeing as his three-year deal is set to expire. Nothing is happening on the Thornton contract front at the moment, we’re told. It’s important to remember that there are two more years that are team-controlled when it comes to the defensive lineman. Players with three accrued seasons can become restricted free agents once their deal expires, and they can be unrestricted after four. An accrued season is obtained by spending six or more regular-season games on a club’s active/inactive, reserved/injured or reserve/physically unable to perform lists. Thornton did not meet those requirements his rookie season, meaning he only has two accrued seasons under his belt.

As for Nick Foles, any thoughts of locking him up to a big deal have to be put on hold. The CBA prevents any drafted player from renegotiating his contract until after his third season. Foles is in his second year.

Peters in the middle

On gameday, the Eagles form a huddle around the 50-yard line following warm-ups and before heading inside for the final time. This is the shot you might see on television, where one of the leaders stands in the middle of the circle and fires the group up with a few choice words. For the better part of two seasons, that job has fallen to Ryans and Vick, who would alternate week-to-week.

Since Foles took over as the starter, Jason Peters has been working into the rotation.

Given how quiet he is, at least around reporters, you wouldn’t think that would necessarily be a role he craved. But he’s been a leader for this team on several different levels, according to his teammates.

“Jason does a really good job of sitting back and watching you and whenever he sees things that you need to improve on, he’ll speak up,” said rookie tackle Lane Johnson. “I think he speaks up at all the appropriate times, and really helps me moving towards game day — what to watch for and things to be aware of.

“He gets riled up on gameday, especially right before we go in. He’s a guy that tries to get us all amped up and going.”

What’s the message?

“Pretty much, let’s get after their [bleep],” said Johnson. “Full-throttle kind of deal.”

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