Mike Woicik is not a dumb man.
He is a six-time Super Bowl champion coach. He is a multiple award-winner. Woicik is among the best at what he does—he’s one of the NFL’s premier strength and conditioning coaches.
That has to make last season all the more frustrating. The Dallas Cowboys took a serous look at Woicik after the 2013 campaign because they were plagued by injuries unlike almost any other league team. But not just any injury—though they had plenty of variety to go around. The Cowboys fell victim to that nagging, annoying hamstring more than any other team last season.
Ultimately the Cowboys decided to let Woicik stay on. This offseason he, and the whole team, must realize a fundamental truth—a new CBA, new practice rules and a new game call for new preventive measures. America’s Team must again learn how to be ahead of the curve and nip this problem in the bud before it sidelines Dallas’s best players for another season.
In 2013, twelve Cowboys suffered a hamstring problem that kept them from game or practice time. Most notable were names like Morris Claiborne, Sean Lee, Miles Austin, Terrance Williams and Dez Bryant.
Austin, in fact, has injured and re-injured his hamstring so many times that the team will probably cut him this offseason, knowing he’s unlikely to ever play another full year.
It’s easy to point the finger at the obvious. The league has limited practice time and the number of full-contact practices, giving fewer snaps to players who, by nature of the stop-and-start game they play, are susceptible to pulled hamstrings.
So why isn’t the rest of the league collapsing in a collective heap?
Granted, injuries are steadily increasing throughout the NFL, and the Cowboys weren’t disproportionately affected last year in terms of overall numbers. Their hamstrings, however, were.
This is something the team monitors internally and compares to other teams. It can’t be happy with what it’s seeing. Thankfully, injury data isn’t the only thing the Cowboys can borrow from other teams.
The Philadelphia Eagles did a great job of staying healthy this year under the guidance of first-year head coach Chip Kelly. Kelly advocates personalized diet and nutrition programs, lighter practices and the latest stretching methods to keep his team on the field, and his approach seems to be paying dividends.
In a season that came down to one game (nay, one drive), this may have been the difference in the NFC East. Goodness knows Jason Garrett has considered this.
Picture that. A division decided by a protein shake.
All kidding aside, what made Woicik a great coach twenty years ago might not work any more. He knows this. If NFL offenses, salaries and equipment can evolve, so can player conditioning.
As Kelly has demonstrated, staying healthy is a yearlong, 24-hour commitment that requires a total buy-in from a team and its coaching staff. If the Cowboys want to make the most out of their best players like Lee, Claiborne and DeMarcus Ware and keep its fringe guys on the sideline, healthy hammies will be key.
The Cowboys are a talented team. The key this year will be keeping that talent on the field. That starts with Woicik.