Eagles in good shape going into bye week

Posted: November 21, 2013

TODD HERREMANS is in his ninth NFL season. He's played every snap of every game this year.

And he can't remember his 31-year-old body ever feeling this good this late in a season.

"I feel terrific," the Eagles left guard said Sunday after playing all 62 snaps in his team's 24-16 win over the Redskins. "I think a lot of the guys, the stuff that we're doing, really takes care of our bodies. I mean, I feel amazing for being 11 weeks without a bye. It's working. It's working for me."

It's easy to poke fun at Chip Kelly's fascination with all of this sports science stuff. Anyone who hasn't made a smoothie joke or questioned the merit of players stretching before bed or wearing sleep monitors please raise your hand.

Thought so.

But Herremans is right. It's working.

The Eagles are one of the last four teams to get their bye week (Cincinnati, Buffalo and Seattle are the other three). Most of the time, it comes just in the nick of time.

But to borrow the Billy Crystal line from his 1980s "Saturday Night Live" parody of Fernando Lamas, the Eagles look mah-velous.

They've won three in a row. They've managed to stay remarkably free of injuries. Through 11 weeks, starters have missed a grand total of 12 games to injury (not including wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who tore his ACL in training camp).

Their five starting offensive linemen haven't missed a start. Their top six defensive linemen haven't missed any time due to injury.

Like Herremans, most of the team's players feel much better than NFL players are supposed to feel after playing 11 games without a break.

"We have sports science behind us," linebacker Connor Barwin said with a smile. "We have a sports science director [Shaun Huls] and he keeps us in shape.

"I don't know, man. We all play hard. We rotate a little to keep guys fresh. Knock on wood, we've been able to stay pretty healthy."

Barwin and the rest of the Eagles' defense already has been on the field for a league-high 824 snaps in the first 11 games. That's just 170 fewer snaps than the defense played the entire season last year.

Barwin and fellow linebacker DeMeco Ryans both are on pace to play 1,200-plus snaps. Barwin never has played more than 1,019 before, Ryans 1,074.

Yet both of them have arrived at the bye playing some of the best football of their careers. Same with defensive end Fletcher Cox, whose 648 snaps already are 122 more than he played as a rookie.

Running back LeSean McCoy not only leads the league in rushing yards (1,009) and yards from scrimmage (1,408), but also rushing attempts (213) and touches (247). He's on pace for 310 carries and 360 touches, both of which would be career-highs.

"I'm not surprised, at how good the players feel," Kelly said. "That's part of the plan. It's a well thought-out research plan. It's not just, 'Let's try this.'

"But it's a two-way street. They have to buy into it, and they've done an unbelievable job of buying into it. We're not with them 24/7. Nor should we be with them 24/7. But we've got a bunch of guys who want to be great at what they do, and they understand not just what they do when they're here during the day but what they do when they're not here during the day has a great effect on them in terms of how they respond physically on Sunday."

I'd love to be able to tell you a bunch more about the specifics of Kelly's sports science philosophy beyond the smoothies and the sleep and heart monitors and the before-bed stretching and the 8-to-10-hours-of-sleep-a-night recommendations.

There has been no chance of getting a sitdown with Huls, or strength coach Josh Hingst. Kelly has made both of them off-limits to the media.

While that bugs the hell out of me as a journalist, I kind of understand where he's coming from, which is the same place as Colonel Sanders, who steadfastly refused to share his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices with anybody. I mean, why give the competition your formula for success, right?

If he's spiking those smoothies with more than papayas and cantaloupes, why let Tom Coughlin or Mike Shanahan know, right?

In case you didn't know it, football coaches are the most detailed people on the planet. I'll bet you 10 bucks that Kelly already knows what he's going to have for dinner on March 5.

When the NFL schedule came out in mid-April and Kelly saw that his team's bye would be in Week 12, he huddled with his staff and planned accordingly.

"This bye occurred exactly when the NFL planned it," he said. "We knew about this when the schedule came out. We've had a schedule in place knowing that we were going to play 11 games and then were going to get a break.

"Things we don't control we don't worry about. We knew exactly how we were going to handle it. We've had the same schedule in place since we put it together in June. If the bye had been a little earlier, we might've practiced a little more this week [before giving the players time off]. But with it being in Week 11, the biggest thing for us right now is for us all to get a break."

That includes the coaching staff. While the players are off until next Tuesday, Kelly and his staff will work today and then take the next 4 days off.

Before the season, former NFL executive Bill Polian said he thought the biggest adjustment for a college coach jumping to the NFL is the longer season. While college seasons are winding down in late November (with the exception of the bowl games, of course), the NFL season is just kicking into high gear.

But Kelly said coaching the Eagles has been/will be no more demanding than coaching at Oregon.

"I understand what Bill is saying," he said. "But my schedule the day the [Oregon regular] season was over was a lot worse than my schedule here because you're planes-trains-and-automobiles recruiting [how can you not like a guy who references one of the funniest movies of all time?] from Sunday night to Friday afternoon and hustling back to getting a [pre-bowl game] practice in on Friday and Saturday and Sunday, and then getting back on a plane and flying all cross the country chasing down recruits.

"I think there's a misconception that when you're a college coach and you play your last game and have a month until the bowl game, you have a month off. You don't. It was more hectic from a recruiting standpoint than it is here. I'm looking forward to being in the office every day [in December] and watching tape. That's the fun part of our job."

Especially when your team is looking mah-velous and in first place in the division.


On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

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