Chip Morton is about to oversee a massive weight room overhaul.
The Bengals' $2 million facelift of their player space that should be completed sometime after the 2014 season is in response to moving training camp to Paul Brown Stadium, a collective bargaining agreement that has cut down on off-season workouts, and expanded rosters and practice squads.
In addition to a new state-of-the-art weight room that is more than twice the size of the current model, during the next two weeks Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton plans to unveil a GPS system that is going to monitor selected players during conditioning sessions and practices in the spring as well as training camp and regular-season practices.
With the Bengals riding the growing wave of sports science, Morton and assistant Jeff Friday hired as one of their interns for the season a former University of Oregon student assistant strength coach. Jesse Wang, a Buffalo, New York product, comes out of the cutting edge program that former head coach Chip Kelly took to the Eagles last season from Eugene.
"The new weight room and the GPS system all goes back to the same thing," Morton said Friday. "We're trying to win on Sundays. The administration's view of the new weight room is exciting and encouraging. We just won't be moving the old stuff into a new space."
A lot has changed in the 14 years since Paul Brown Stadium opened and not just the Bruce Coslet-Akili Smith roster. The player space is going through its biggest overhaul since the steel lockers of Spinney Field gave way to the walk-in closets of PBS.
The Marvin Lewis-Andy Dalton team now has training camp at the stadium instead of Georgetown College, the roster limit is 90 instead of 80, and the 2011 CBA limits the time players can be in the facility during the offseason.
"We've already got a great weight room, but in square footage we're probably on the lower end, so we've worked in small groups," Morton said. "We've been very effective. It gets better attention from our players. We coach on teaching, encouragement, correction and that works better when you can control numbers. Part of the reasoning is with the CBA, times have been crunched a little bit and you have to be more efficient, which means larger group training. It's a double-edged sword."
Part of the overhaul eliminates some walls and hallways in order to open it up so players are able to flow more freely from the site of the old weight room, which becomes a cafeteria/kitchen, to the new weight room under the south end zone.
The locker room expansion plans have it completed by the time training camp starts July 23. They call for the wall of the player lounge to be knocked down so it can be re-modeled as part of a locker room accommodating 90 lockers. After the season, the new player lounge is going to be across from the cafeteria/kitchen in what is now the cardio room. The cardio room is going to be moved to the gym.
"That little thing right there shows the commitment," Morton said. "They don't want to compromise the weight room space for cardio. 'We'll find extra space for a cardio area not taking away from the floor space of the weight room.' That's the kind of vision the administration has on this."
To a player, getting wired up used to mean "Hard Knocks or NFL Network was attaching a microphone to them for a show. But in two weeks, the second week of the off-season workouts, it means the strength and conditioning staff is going to get recorded data from workouts or practice sessions.
The GPS tracks heart rate, movement, acceleration, deceleration, change-of-direction, distance traveled, and velocity. One of the major benefits of keeping track of a player's workload is knowing when to back him off in order to prevent injuries of overuse, such as soft tissue problems with calves, groins, and hamstrings.
"We want to get a better handle on what we're doing. We're always talking about recovery and keeping guys healthy," Morton said. "This is an objective measure of what we're doing on the field, as opposed to time and number of plays. This measures it out."
Early on all players won't be wired because the recommendation is to start with a smaller group while collecting data in the initial phase.
"What it comes down to is not how big the weight room is or what you've got in it, it's the quality of people you have in it and the relationships they have," Morton said. "We've been blessed to have a lot of good people come through here. Our strength interns have gone on to do really well."
Morton's 23 seasons in the NFL are assisted by Friday, a nine-year head coaching veteran in the league who got a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens. He replaced Ray "Rock," Oliver, now one of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari's top assistants who runs his strength and conditioning program.
This year Wang joins Devin Dubose, a small college lineman whom interned at Baylor before doing grad work at Indiana State. There is a good track record of them moving on.
Of the past interns, Clif Marshall runs the program at Cincinnati's Ignition Sports, Rick Danison is the top assistant at Indiana and Robert Harris and Brad Bichey are the top assistants in the University of Arkansas football weight room. Ron McKeefery, who was here last year after running the program at the University of Tennessee, is now Eastern Michigan's director of strength and conditioning.