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Addition of a sports science director could help Detroit Lions manage injuries better

A strong sports science program could go a long way to improving Lions’ player’s health and recovery.

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions, like most NFL teams, have long kept a small, specialized strength and conditioning program, with a director and one or two assistants. Last season, Josh Shuler (director) and Morris Henry (assistant) ran the program, and while both return in 2021, there are a couple of new names added to the team—Director of Sports Performance, Mike Clark, and Director of Sports Science, Jill Costanza.

It should be no surprise that you will also find these “new” positions in the Los Angeles Rams organization. So what do they do to help the Rams? Let’s take a closer look.

While traditional strength and conditioning programs mainly focus on well, strength and conditioning, the sports performance/science aspects focus more on maximizing player efficiency, while also helping players avoid injury and recover faster if they do suffer one.

“My main focus is to increase player availability,” said Rams’ Director of Sports Science Tyler Williams told ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez. “The more availability you have, theoretically, the better percent chance you have to win.”

Williams and the Rams staff use GPS data from microchips in players’ equipment to track movements/speeds in real-time and determine when a player is being pushed too hard and could risk injury, versus when they can spend more time practicing.

“You want to flirt above and below that line,” Williams said to ESPN. “You don’t want to go too far below where you’re underprepared, or too far above where you’re overworked.”

While it’s hard to say for certain this sports science program has led to fewer injuries, it’s worth noting that the Rams have been amongst the healthier teams in the NFL since they began the program.

Sportfacts.org collected injury information in the NFL during the 2015-18 seasons and produced a report focused on how many players landed on injured reserve during those seasons. Here is a graph of the results, noting the Rams had the third-fewest players land on IR:

via Sportfacts.org

Additionally, the law firm of Weiss and Paarz also conducted a study of injuries in the NFL, focusing on players who were unable to play in a game due to injury during the 2014-18 seasons. They found that the Rams were once again among the best in the league over that five-year period, having the second-fewest amount of players with week-to-week injuries.

The Rams use Sports Science as a communicative medium between their medical, training, nutrition, and coaching departments, and they believe this same-page approach has helped them maintain a higher level of player health.

The Lions have the pieces in place to put a similar program together—they actually have considerably more specialized medical staff—but even if they do adopt the Rams approach, it’ll likely take time to see the results. Williams said it took the Rams roughly two years of collecting data before they knew how to apply it properly.

Fortunately for the Lions, it appears Costanza has some experience in this field based on her previous positions.

The Lions have a lot of work to do to get a sports science program up and running, but this sure looks like it is a positive step in the right direction of increasing player durability/recovery—something that has plagued the Lions over the past several seasons.