The goal is to evaluate and get better every year.
That applies to every aspect of an NFL organization. At training camp this year, we've seen new approaches from the team nutritionist, athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach, all in an effort to give the Panthers even the slightest edge.
Team nutritionist Jennifer Brunelli can’t hide her giddiness. She’s been wanting to run sweat tests on the players for a while now, and her wish has been granted.
The patch, which measures sweat loss and sodium, is applied to select players’ arms before practice so Brunelli can collect data for individualized hydration plans.
This process also involves keeping a record of what players are drinking, as well as any … how do we put this … “output” during practice.
“It’s funny, I’m running around trying to keep guys from passing out, and I’ll be the one passing out,” Brunelli joked.
But it’s worth the effort. The sweat patches will allow Brunelli to address players’ specific needs based on how their bodies respond. During the regular season, she plans to re-run tests on the players who often require IV assistance and/or lose high amounts of sodium.
“The general recommendation has gone on for decades. Weigh the players in, weigh ‘em out and every pound you lose, you drink 16 ounces of water,” Brunelli said. “The downfall is you’re not taking into consideration what else is in your sweat, and sodium is going to affect whether you keep that fluid onboard. This not only tracks individual sweat loss, it also gives us how many miligrams of sodium lost per hour. The highest so far is 2,300 miligrams in one practice. That’s how much a general person should have in one day.
“Overall, it’s really useful data to help the athlete.”
The Panthers also look a little bit different at the start of practice with a new team-wide warm-up routine.
“We were all called upon to evaluate our processes,” strength and conditioning coach Joe Kenn said. “This one of my processes and I felt like we needed to reevaluate what we were doing.”
Before practice begins, the team is now split into offense and defense on each side of the field with players going up and down the yard lines doing various kinetic exercises, resembling a track & field warm up.
“We come out of a walk-through period where the guys already have gotten their heart rates up a little bit and we want to keep that going,” Kenn said. “We also wanted to make sure that these are exercises that every position type can do and can be helpful to them.”
In the past, Kenn had the team split into pods that did different exercises at different paces, some of which were ground-based mobility and traditional static stretching poses.
As time went on, the routine became too loose.
“Watching it, it just didn’t look exactly right,” Kenn said. “It wasn’t bad per se. It could just be better and look more uniform, rather than guys doing different things and not all doing it together. Ultimately it could be more efficient.”
The other offshoot is that this warmup more closely fits the five-minute window that Kenn has to stretch out the team on gameday.
“We have gotten it down from like eight or nine minutes to under six,” Kenn said. “It’s still a little long with 90 guys out there, but with 46 dressed guys for a regular season game, I think that we can get it to five. There will be fewer lines and hopefully a bit more speed. It also means that we will now be doing the same stretching routine on gameday that we do in practice.”
It seems like a small thing. How one stretches. But for Kenn, if the team can spend five minutes a day with more fluidity, more uniformity and more consistency, then it’s all worth it.
Quarterbacks coach Scott Turner gets a little tired just watching the quarterbacks go through their revamped warm-up routine.
“It’s hard work, man. Those guys are sweating,” Turner said. “Their shoulders are burning. But it really gets the muscles that really stabilize and kind of decelerate your shoulder – it really gets them going.”
Arms over their heads in static position. Active motions with their hands to stress the shoulder. Circles – small to big – to develop strength. That’s just a sampling of the process head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion has installed.
“We changed it up this year and developed a program for the quarterbacks to get them ready to throw prior to practice,” said Vermillion, who conducted research during the offseason. “Before we even go to team stretch the quarterbacks go through a series of motions that help with range of motion and strength of the rotator cuff in preparation for throwing. We also work on exercises for their feet to get them moving and to use proper angles when throwing the football with the right head and shoulder posture.
“I try to give them different exercises daily to try to stimulate them and change it up. There’s a camaraderie component with all of them doing it together. It’s not easy. You develop a lot of lactic acid when you’re doing the exercises. They seem like small motions, but you really develop muscle stamina to get through practice.”
These warm-ups are beneficial for quarterbacks at any level, with or without an injury history. But Vermillion and the Panthers were clearly motivated to try something new after Cam Newton’s shoulder issues came to a head in 2019.
“This is to make Cam stronger and have a longer career,” Vermillion said, “and take a little bit of stress off the shoulder.”