Electrodes: On. GPS: Check. Eye Trackers ...

New coach Chip Kelly is working up a physiological dashboard for each player. But will all that data yield more victories?
July 29, 2013

When Chip Kelly took over the Eagles last January the team expected change. Some of what Kelly has since wrought is obvious. His frenetic practices are set to deafening music of all genres—Kanye West, AC/DC and banquet-hall favorite "Cha Cha Slide"—that blares onto South Broad Street, and his staff introduced personalized protein shakes that players grab on their way off the practice field. (Center Jason Kelce's, for instance, contains blueberries, avocado, 2% milk and vanilla protein powder.)

But Kelly's remaking of the Eagles' program through the application of sports science is a bigger and more multitiered undertaking. The premise is simple: Teams invest millions in players; why not devote significant resources to a cutting-edge approach that will help keep players on the field and maximize their performance? The Eagles started by creating a new position on the coaching staff—for Shaun Huls, a former trainer of Navy SEALs—and in mid-March they began developing something of a sports-science lab.

That included a variety of devices that can create a physiological dashboard for each player. Among the technologies the Eagles are using: GPS devices; heart-rate monitors; a system that gauges an athlete's readiness for training and competition; and weightlifting technology that measures not just how much an athlete is lifting but how quickly he is doing it, to calculate power. 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 that is compatible with, and perhaps even necessary for, the way Kelly coaches. With the up-tempo style he brought from Oregon—the Ducks averaged 81.4 offensive plays per game last season—players are in near-perpetual motion. Technology can play an important role in preventing overtraining and soft-tissue injuries. "Everyone is saying that going at this pace, people are going to burn out," says Eagles offensive tackle Dennis Kelly, "but they're making sure we're getting the rest we need to recover."

The OptimEye trackers, of which the Eagles have about 55, record a player's movements in 3-D space during a practice, allowing coaches to quantify attributes such as acceleration, agility and the percentage of time a player is running at maximum speed versus walking or standing. An incentive to keep hustling? Sure. But it's also a means to determine how much stress a workout places on a player's body.

The Omegawave system uses an electrocardiogram transmitter and a pair of electrodes that tap into the central nervous system to measure stress, fatigue and how well the body can handle aerobic or anaerobic exercise.

Of course, the biggest test of Kelly's sports-science revolution must wait until the season starts. As with his undercover offense, success will be measured only in wins or losses. "We're just trying to make our team better," Kelly says.

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PHOTOMATT ROURKE/APINFORMATION, PLEASE Kelly, who needs the Eagles in peak condition for his up-tempo offense, monitors their hearts, nervous systems and urine. PHOTOAL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED[See caption above]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)