Man with a Plan

Rusty Jones can't wait for the 2005 season to begin. As the newly appointed strength and conditioning coordinator for the Bears, this 20-year NFL veteran has a very specific goal in mind.

"It's clear that what we need to keep every member of this team fit and healthy," Jones said. "I've been in the league for 20 years and I've learned a lot during that time. The key is in individualized programs for nutrition, flexibility and strength. We want to maximize each player's abilities and to keep injuries at an absolute minimum."

The statement about keeping players on the field should be just what every Bears fan has been waiting to hear. After suffering through the team's setbacks during an injury prone season last year everyone is certainly ready to move on.

"It was hard being out," said Mike Brown, who spent the final 14 games of the season using crutches on the sidelines because of a ruptured Achilles tendon. "You work so hard then you're not playing. Whatever any of us can do to avoid that situation is definitely good. I'm feeling fine now and I want to stay that way."

The Bears landed 12 players on Injured Reserve last year, including several key members such as Brown, Brian Urlacher, and Rex Grossman.

"No team wants to lose a starter," Jones said. "That's the primary rule of football. But if the unthinkable happens, you want to have everything in place to return that player to the lineup injury free as soon as possible. A good strength and conditioning program will give you the proper foundation for that to happen."

And how does Jones plan to accomplish this goal? It all begins with one word: homework. In this case, a comprehensive program that will be specifically designed to help each player reach his optimal level of conditioning.

"The veterans will arrive at Halas Hall on April 11," Jones said. "Once we start working with them, that's when these parameters are implemented. What happens is that each player is given a manual with his ultimate conditioning goals. This is a comprehensive program outlined very clearly in a bound notebook"

Although the specifics of each player's program remains confidential, Jones stated that the content covers many aspects of the player's life from how he eats, to when he rests and how he works out.

"Everything they need to know from our point of view will be in there," Jones said. "Every member of the team is expected to know and understand the program well before training camp begins. If they follow what we have devised, their conditioning should be excellent throughout the season."

The draft class will not escape the program.

"What I've noticed is the excellent conditioning level of these college athletes. This transition from undergrad to the pros shouldn't be too difficult for them," Jones said. "It shows us that the coaches at that level are doing things right. I've been measuring body fat percentages on candidates at the combine for many years. There seems to be a continual decline in fat as well as an increase in fitness. That's always a very good sign."

What Jones' program has always stressed is the importance of proper nutrition in safe conditioning because ‘It's all about the fuel that the body needs.' That includes the proper number of daily calories from the best possible sources.

"You don't want your players tiring quickly due to a lack of food," Jones said. "That's where injuries can occur. It's something to keep in mind when formulating diets for any athlete. Yes, a lean body tends to be a quick body and that's very desirable in the NFL. But you must also keep the player's energy level up. Game conditions can be very stressful. When a player's energy source is depleted his attention can wander. That's when bad things can happen."

Jones gained league-wide notoriety for getting Bills players in top physical condition while Buffalo enjoyed success running the "no-huddle" offense in the early 1990's.

One change that has already been implemented at Halas Hall is the later start in the calendar year for mini-camp as contrasted to 2004. This is a system that Jones found to be successful during his previous experience with Buffalo.

"We'll work out the veterans and the rookies on the field starting around May 16," Jones said. "Then they will head home in June with their assignments as far as continuing their fitness and diet routines. That way, when training camp begins the players should be both conditioned and rested."


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