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Friday, October 4, 2013
Kelly secretive about injuries, innovations

By Phil Sheridan

PHILADELPHIA -- It was a series of small steps for LeSean McCoy. Whether it turns out to be a giant leap for the Philadelphia Eagles, and for sports science, remains to be seen.

With apologies to Neil Armstrong, those sure looked like moon boots McCoy was wearing after the Eagles practiced on Thursday. The running back walked softly through the locker room wearing the futuristic white slip-ons. He declined all opportunities to explain them, saying only that “Coach” didn’t want him talking about such state secrets.

That would be Chip Kelly, who has been enigmatic, to say the least, about matters involving injuries to his players. After 14 years of Andy Reid beginning every media availability with the alphabetical list of injured players, and occasionally bringing trainer Rick Burkholder out to provide in-depth detail, Kelly’s hear-no-medical-report, speak-no-medical-report approach is a change.

Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly
Chip Kelly doesn't like to discuss his approach to injuries, but the Eagles have so far been remarkably healthy on game days since his arrival.
When he was asked about safety Patrick Chung's status Thursday, Kelly offered a literal shrug.

“I'm not being evasive,” Kelly said. “They just tell me, is he going, is he not going. I know he has a shoulder, I don't get specific. I don't know third degrees, second degrees, it's not my job to know that stuff. I just have to know, is the guy going or not going.”

Well, maybe he’s a little bit evasive. This week, Kelly said cornerback Brandon Boykin would be limited in practice. When asked about what his injury was (Boykin was not listed on the postgame injury report Sunday), Kelly said he didn’t know.

A few minutes later, however, a reporter asked if Boykin was injured on one of those plays where his 185-pound frame was blocked by a 300-pound offensive lineman. That implied a mistake on the part of Kelly and his staff.

Suddenly, Kelly knew precisely which play Boykin was injured on.

“It actually happened on a punt,” Kelly said.

Kelly’s lack of interest in injuries seems to be a technique to avoid parting with too much information. But that lack, real or not, does not extend to injury prevention. Kelly is secretive about specifics, but he did talk a bit Thursday about his overall philosophy.

“It's a combination of a lot of things,” Kelly said, “but I think part of what our sports science aspect of things is, is to make sure that time lost is the biggest thing you're trying to prevent. Just the little things: are we getting enough sleep, eating the right way, doing the other things. That contributes to it.”

Kelly’s entire approach, from the now-famous designer smoothies to the unusual choice to practice on Tuesdays, is meant to prevent injury, enable recovery and help players peak on game days -- and yes, a 1-3 record doesn't necessarily reflect success.

“We don't do that just for the sake of doing it,” Kelly said. “We do that because we think there's a benefit to it. Obviously, the big issues you look at are the soft tissue injures, because those are preventable. If someone breaks a leg, someone breaks a leg. There's not much from a sports science standpoint or preparation standpoint that goes into the prevention of breaking a bone.”

Or tearing an anterior cruciate ligament. The Eagles had a disheartening series of those early in training camp, including one that cost them starting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin for the season.

Since then, the Eagles have been unusually healthy. Only two players, Chung and cornerback Bradley Fletcher (concussion) have missed games with injuries. Offensive lineman Dennis Kelly also was unavailable for three games because of his recovery from back surgery.

The injury report has been short every week. Whether that’s because the players are healthier or because minor injuries aren’t included is impossible to say. Reporters aren’t able to watch practice, so there’s no way to be sure everyone is participating fully.

Still, game-day availability is undeniable, and the Eagles have been very healthy on game days. Whether that’s luck or sports science or a little of both is impossible to say.