The Jaguars would sure like to be as "lucky" this season as they were last year. That's why they're liftin' all those weights.
Strength and conditioning coach Mark Asanovich is currently overseeing a spring program designed to accomplish two objectives: Increase each player's overall strength and improve his resilience to injury.
"The goal is to optimize the physical potential of all of our players, to put us physically in the best position to compete at the highest level in the league. As a player gets stronger, he's able to perform better and resist injury," Asanovich said in describing the function of his conditioning program, which was put into motion on March 26.
Last year, the same program produced one of the healthiest seasons in Jaguars history. In a "Games Lost By Starters" statistic compiled by Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News, the Jaguars ranked sixth in the league in games lost to injury (18) by starters last season. Included in those 18 games are four games lost to a drug suspension by Jimmy Smith and nine games lost by Mark Brunell to an elbow injury that, ultimately, became a personnel decision. Minus Smith's and Brunell's "games lost," the Jaguars would've ranked number one in the league with the fewest games lost to injury by starters.
"I attribute that to, first of all, Jack's system of allowing players to recover," Asanovich said of the Jaguars' impressive health record in 2003. "I guess moderation is the whole thing. Again, in the weight room, we're not introducing orthopedic-stressful protocols. When I prescribe exercise, it has to be orthopedic-safe. The guys have bought in and we've had great results, and we have an owner who has given us the resources to do it. The last thing is luck. Just because we lift weights doesn't mean we have a covenant with God not to get injured. But I've always thought the harder you work the luckier you get," Asanovich added.
The injury ranking is especially meaningful for the Jaguars, who cut their "games lost" number in half. In the 2002 season, Jaguars starters missed 36 games to injury; 17th in the league. The team was last in the league in each of the 2000 and 2001 seasons, but was seventh in 1999, when the Jaguars' 14-2 record was the best in the league.
Oh, by the way, if you want a deeper appreciation of New England's Super Bowl championship in 2003, consider the fact the Patriots were last in the league with 87 games lost to injury.
Be that as it may, most coaches, including Bill Belichick, would agree it's better to be healthy than it is to be hurt. So, the pursuit of health continues all across the league this spring.
"We base our program on individualized training in the weight room. Players have four different routines they alternate through. We never allow more than 12 players in the room at a time. I have a staff of six who take the players through one-hour workouts," Asanovich said. "We start at their necks and we don't stop until we reach their ankles. Your ability to perform is determined by all of your muscles."
Last year, offensive tackle Mike Pearson was the offseason conditioning program's "poster boy." Pearson made significant gains in overall strength, and he helped the Jaguars offensive line set a sacks-allowed record and nearly establish a new mark for yards rushing, too.
This year, quarterback Byron Leftwich is Asanovich's high-profile pupil. Leftwich is attempting to decrease fat and increase muscle – aren't we all? – and Jaguars fans will be eager to see the finished product.
"We're not doing a whole lot different with him than with the other players. The thing he needs to do is to put this together with a disciplined, dietary plan. We're not doing more with him. You can over-train a guy. He's putting it together with a gameplan for his nutrition to decrease his body fat and increase his lean weight. He's a big kid and he's never trained. He's going to put on some lean weight. He's 250. You're not looking at the weight, you're looking at what the weight is composed of," Asanovich said of Leftwich.
"We use free weight, machines, barbells, dumbbells, things we fabricate, to train every muscle in their body. We do very basic things, we do them very hard and we do them in a progressive fashion, and we do them individually," Asanovich said in describing his program. "What distinguishes us from everyone else is we individually coach them like they are coached on the field. If we fundamentally execute rep mechanics better than everyone else, we will get better results in the weight room and on the field."
"Prehabilitation" remains the major word in Asanovich's vocabulary. Strength and conditioning coaches live by their "games lost" ranking, because it refers directly to the team's salary cap. There's only so much cap room available, and teams can't afford to spend that cap room on injured players.
One of Asanovich's mantras is, "Slow is better" for weight-lifting. "When you explode, there's orthopedic trauma. They get enough of that on the field. To explode in the weight room is to pretty much throw gas on the fire," he said.
"Our team theme is, 'It's not what we do, it's how we do it.' It's how we do it and how hard we do it," Asanovich added.
Last year, they obviously did it right.