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Chip Kelly's Rehab Strategy

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Remember all those jokes about the Eagles grabbing every seriously injured player in free agency this year? It might not be a joke. And it's setting up a fascinating strategy battle against the Cowboys.

Shaun Huls, Dir. of Sports Science & Reconditioning
Shaun Huls, Dir. of Sports Science & Reconditioning
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Richards (@igglesnut on Twitter) is a regular commenter at IgglesBlitz and one of those diehard Eagles fans who scours the team's website for hints of what Chip Kelly is up to.  He spotted a big one Saturday:

This led to a lot of jokes about shampoo and the elderly offensive line, but I immediately thought about how many injured players the Eagles acquired on the cheap this off-season. When I asked Richards if that's what it meant, he said it went even deeper and pointed me towards Bill Knowles.

Knowles is the "Director of Reconditioning and Athletic Development" for HPSports, near Villanova. The philosophy of reconditioning boils down to this: traditional rehabilitation from injury is a two-step process. A team's doctor and physical therapist work with an injured player until they're "released" to rejoin the team's workouts.

Reconditioning says that elite athletes shouldn't be rehabbed by the same physical therapist who would help your grandma after she broke her hip. There should be a single, integrated process of training and rehab combined, run by trainers qualified to work with healthy elite athletes and aimed from day one toward return to competition.

"...a serious joint/tendon/muscle injury should be looked upon as a neurophysiologic dysfunction, not just a basic peripheral musculoskeletal injury. With this in mind we must train movements, not muscles during all stages of post-injury care."

They don't like braces, and it often takes longer than traditional rehab:

Reconditioning is a performance-based model that values a longer preparation period, NOT an earlier return to competition.

So what does this mean for the Eagles? Knowles does not work for the Eagles, but if his philosophy of reconditioning is similar to Shaun Huls', there are some interesting implications.

In the short run, it might mean that Mark Sanchez starts the year as the Eagles' starting quarterback. Sam Bradford's ACL is a real worry, and some feel he got reinjured coming back too soon last year. (He tore his ACL the first time in late October of 2013, and missed only one preseason game before coming back in the following August.)

The bigger picture is what's really interesting. The Eagles picked up a lot of injured athletes over the off-season. From Sam Bradford to Kiko Alonso to Ryan Mathews to DeMarco Murray, you hear the same criticism over and over. "Sure, he's talented and high character, but he has a lot of injury problems."

With the new title for Shaun Huls, it's becoming clear that this is a deliberate strategy by the Birds. Kelly has a lot of faith in the team's Sports Science program. At the NFL Owner's Meeting in March, he was asked about Sam Bradford's rehab. He said:

"...you look at, I think, the history right now in terms of sports science and what doctors are doing now, it’s unbelievable. Look at the year Jeremy Maclin had coming off of two ACLs. Look at our center. Jason Kelce came off an ACL when I first got there. He had a sports hernia surgery in the middle of the season and still made the Pro Bowl. Our left tackle, who is arguably a Hall of Famer, is coming off two Achilles (injuries) and has played at an outstanding level."

The Eagles got a lot of talented, high character players for very little. Consider Sam Bradford -- #1 overall pick in 2010, passed for 3,000 yards his rookie season and broke Peyton Manning's record for rookie completions, with 326. Injuries slowed him down for 2 years, but in 2013 he had thrown for 1,687 yards and 14 TDs to just 4 INTs in the first 7 games before he got hurt.

Shaun Huls New Title

Shaun Huls' New Title

It boils down to this: no team gets every player they want. You have to gamble.

Seattle excelled on late round draft picks, in part by analyzing SPARQ scores for athletic potential. Dallas seems to be getting every bad character player possible, picking up 3 high first round talents this year in the process.* The Eagles are grabbing big, talented, good attitude players with injury histories.

None of it is guaranteed to be successful, but the Eagles strategy seems shrewder. Even if the Cowboys can successfully wrangle their wild bunch of woman beaters and chronic weed smokers, they will at best be talented guys with sketchy character. Dallas should just embrace their new attitude, trade their white and blue uniforms for black and red, and call themselves the Bad Boys or the New Raiders.

On the other hand, if the Eagles succeed, they'll have great athletes with elite skills and excellent attitudes. (They're also copying the Seahawks SPARQ score strategy, which should help them take away the late round picks advantage.) The percentage success rate will be crucial to seeing which strategy does better, but if it's close to the same, the Eagles should have a clear edge.

* EDIT: Some commenters correctly note that La'el Collins is not a suspect in the murder of his ex-girlfriend, and was not the father of the baby she was carrying. That's absolutely true -- there is no reason to call him bad character at this point.  He presents a risk of finding out more later, but if his gamble pays off, he may be a high-character Pro Bowl stud.

Unfair as it this all is, though, I think he may present another risk.  Having your ex-girlfriend gunned down at her door may take something out of him, emotionally.  It would be almost weird if it didn't, unless he can channel his grief into motivation to succeed.  Good luck to him.