"[Cowboys strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik] I know is certainly not happy with it, [Athletic trainers] Jim Maurer and Britt Brown are not happy. I know Jason’s not happy with it and I damn sure know Jerry [Jones] and I are not happy with it. So we’re looking at ways to try to work on that." - Stephen Jones
Neither are the fans. Over the course of the 2013 season, fully a dozen players missed time (practice or game) due to one particular type of soft tissue injury: the dreaded hamstring pull. Most concerning was the fact that two groups which are considered to be positions of strength and depth were hardest hit. Those were the receiving and linebacking corps. Included in the groups that were decimated were Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Terrance Williams, Dwayne Harris, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, and Justin Durant. The defensive secondary was not far behind, as Barry Church, Danny McCray and Morris Claiborne also dealt with hamstring issues. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that simply eliminating this one type of injury would make the Dallas Cowboys a better team on gameday.
According to a report from ESPNDallas reporter Todd Archer, the Cowboys are taking action to see what can be done to resolve their issues.
The shortened offseason conditioning program could play a factor in the increase in injuries, but it has not affected every team. The Cowboys have studied other teams’ approaches and injury numbers to come up with a solution.
One place where they need to look is toward that team in the City of Brotherly Love. The Philadelphia Eagles suffered very limited impact from injuries during the 2013 season, thanks in part to the "nutrition revolution" brought to the league by new head coach Chip Kelly. Among the things that Kelly brought to the league are personalized nutritional plans, more focus on stretching sessions, less grueling practices, and post-practice massages to reduce the injury impact of physical activity. Although the "personalized smoothie" has been something of a running joke, it is impossible to discount the fact that the Eagles were one of the healthiest teams in the league as the 2013 season wound down.
It's not just Chip Kelly who is claiming that nutrition is a critical factor in injury prevention. From our good friend Birddog26 we have the results of some research that he undertook on the subject of soft tissue injury, via Twitter.
While researching soft tissue injuries I found a very low rate in a wheat and dairy free diet with a natural vitamin/mineral uptake.— Birddog26 (@Birddog26) February 26, 2014
one key to an injury free lifestyle is a high vitamin D uptake through salmon and tuna everyday.— Birddog26 (@Birddog26) February 26, 2014
A huge key besides wheat and dairy free was a focus on natural uptake and not supplaments. Blood chemistry was an individual focus— Birddog26 (@Birddog26) February 26, 2014
@kazzcowboys Not a diet, but a lifestyle. For an individual the investment is aditional prep time and not money. Actualy very cheap.— Birddog26 (@Birddog26) February 26, 2014
Birddog's findings gel nicely with what other sources have to say. One key study that I looked at was undertaken by Vincent DeBono, DC, CSCS, who is the vice president for academic services at National University of Health Sciences.
"We’d love to be able to prevent soft-tissue injuries, but the reality is there is no way to do that. Accidents happen; no matter how much exercise you do. However, there are things we can do to help our patients reduce the likelihood of an injury. It’s all about living a healthy lifestyle. If you’re not getting regular exercise, proper rest and a balanced diet, you’re definitely going to be more prone to injury." - Dr. Vincent DeBono
According to the studies that Dr. DeBono has conducted, they key principles in mitigating injury are proper exercise and warm up/cool down techniques, appropriate preventive therapy after activity, a healthy diet, and appropriate rest to include sleep routines. Everything comes down to an individual committing to a healthy lifestyle. These things are all items that the Eagles have incorporated into the regimen that they ask their players to adopt. According to Coach Kelly, that is the key, his players have bought in to what he is teaching and it is making a difference.
"I'm not surprised, I mean, that's part of the plan. It's a well-thought-out research plan. It's not just, ‘Hey, let's try this.’ So it's a two‑way street in terms of they have to buy into it and they have done an unbelievable job buying into it, because we're not with them 24-7, nor should we be with them 24-7.
We've got a bunch of guys that want to be great at what they do. They understand not only what they do here during the day, but what they're not doing here during the day has a great effect on you being able to respond on Sundays. And they've bought into that, and I think that's a credit to those guys." - Chip Kelly
There is a new way of thinking that is starting to take hold in the world of sports and the Dallas Cowboys are standing on the cusp of the next wave of innovation. For a franchise that originally built itself around being an innovator, the choice appears to be clear. The time has come to fully embrace this new wave and ride it as far as it will take them. While the team is naturally quiet on the specifics that they are now implementing, it seems clear that they are striving to make some major changes to improve their overall team health. With the wealth of scientific information that is available to the team, I fully expect that, if the team stays the course, we should soon see the benefits of the coming revolution.
If the Cowboys can find a way to keep their front-line talent on the football field, it will go a long way toward helping to resolve many of the issues that have held the team to being a mediocre 8-8 for the last three seasons. While change is easier said than done, if the team, from the owner down to the players and on to the training staff, will fully buy in the way the Philadelphia Eagles have, the sky could be the limit for the men who wear the star. If not, the team is doomed to remain a franchise that is constantly bringing players in off of the couch to simply be able to field a team. The choice should be clear to everyone involved.