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Commanders hire new head of player health and performance, sign Zach Ertz

Commanders hire new head of player health and performance, sign Zach Ertz

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

When Josh Harris purchased the Washington Commanders for $6.05 billion in July, he said he was looking for any way to give the team “edges.”

“We’ve used analytics, we’ve used sports science. Wherever we can create an edge, if we can make our players feel better, if we can accommodate their lives a little bit better, if we can set up for training better — we’re going to look at all that stuff,” Harris said during his introductory news conference.

Harris’s belief in the value of analytics and sports science was central to his rebuilds of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils, and it will be integral to his shaping of the Commanders. The team continued the process of transforming its player wellness and football analytics departments this week with the hire of Tim McGrath.

McGrath will serve as the Commanders’ senior director of player health and performance, overseeing all aspects of athletic training, strength and conditioning, nutrition, sports science and player wellness. McGrath, an Australian citizen, joined the team late last season as a consultant as he awaited approval for an immigrant work visa to be employed full-time, a person with knowledge of the matter said. During that time, he observed the team’s operations to find ways to improve its training resources and processes.

McGrath is Harris’s second major hire in this realm. Eugene Shen, the Commanders’ senior vice president of strategy, joined the team in October to oversee all analytics and software development for football operations.

The Commanders also hired football data analyst Preston Biro in June and recently added assistant strength and conditioning coach Cesar Castillo. They’re likely to continue to bolster their athletic training staff and analytics groups in the coming months.

Shen and McGrath attended the NFL combine last week and spent time with General Manager Adam Peters.

“When you’re talking about just player evaluation, it’s a great data point. It’s a great cross-checker for you,” Peters said of his use of analytics. “And the more you can really tailor it to what you’re looking for in players, it can really help you gain edges. … Everybody’s got the same amount of money, same amount of players … and by having a really good analytics team and analytics department, you can really get an edge that way.”

Harris began to beef up the Commanders’ use of sports science and improve player wellness almost immediately after purchasing the team. Simon Rice, the 76ers’ vice president of athlete care, attended Commanders practices during training camp to observe the team’s training operations and recommend potential changes.

McGrath, a longtime physiotherapist with 20 years of professional sports experience and 22 years of clinical experience, has a doctorate in clinical physiotherapy. McGrath’s expertise is in lower-limb injury prevention and rehabilitation, and he has been a clinical consultant for more than 35 professional sports teams in 11 different leagues, including the NBA, NHL, English Premier League, Major League Rugby and Australian Football League.

McGrath helped develop Pitch Ready, a testing system that uses motion capture data to help form tailored injury prevention and recovery plans for athletes. The basis of the program’s algorithms are from McGrath’s PhD research on knee injuries.

The 76ers began using Pitch Ready in 2021. The Commanders are likely to use the platform this year as McGrath emphasizes more individualized plans.

The Commanders’ ranked last in an NFL Players Association player survey of working conditions, and among the primary gripes from players’ was the limited resources for athletic training. The team’s strength coaches ranked among the league’s highest (fifth this year, tied for first last year) in the NFLPA’s report card.

Five days after beginning to reshape their roster with some veteran cuts, the Commanders began to add outside talent. On Wednesday, the team agreed to a one-year deal worth up to $5 million for veteran tight end Zach Ertz, two people with knowledge of the deal said.

Ertz, 33, is familiar with Washington’s new system and its play-caller. He spent most of the past three seasons in Arizona, where Kliff Kingsbury, now the Commanders’ offensive coordinator, was his head coach in 2021 and 2022.

Ertz began his career in Philadelphia as a second-round pick in 2013, and he earned three Pro Bowl nods during his nine years with the Eagles. He was most recently with the Detroit Lions, but for all of six days; he signed to the team’s practice squad during the postseason, and his contract expired after the Lions’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game.

Although Ertz will add experience to Washington’s tight end corps, he has suffered a string of injuries since 2020 and has played only one full season in the past five years.

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