The Buccaneers want to make sure that Warrick Dunn is on the field when the game is on the line
Imagine you suffer from a very common physical ailment from time to time, one for which both preventative measures and a cure are everyday knowledge. Now imagine that the prevention, a simple and obvious method, doesn't seem to work for you as well as it does for most everyone else.
Do you give up, accept that you are more susceptible to the ailment and simply treat it as well as you can each time? Doubtful.
Rather, one suspects you would look for alternate methods of prevention.
But what if your ailment is plain old, ordinary muscle cramps, the physiology of which is obvious to everyone. You exert yourself, you sweat, you lose fluids and sodium and your muscles react badly to the imbalance. To prevent cramps, you drink plenty of fluids, preferably sodium and carbohydrate-bearing sports drinks like Gatorade.
Beyond that, what can you do?
Well, that's what Warrick Dunn would like to know and what the Gatorade Sports Science Laboratory and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trainers are trying to help him find out.
On Tuesday, Dunn visited the Gatorade lab in Barrington, Illinois for some high-tech testing on this low-end problem. Since his senior year in high school, Dunn has been unusually susceptible to muscle cramps during football games. When Gatorade suggested they might be able to help pinpoint his problem more specifically, Dunn was more than happy to make the one-day hop to the outskirts of Chicago.
"I just told him about the lab and what they did, and he was very interested," said Todd Toriscelli, the team's head trainer and the man responsible for treating Dunn's cramps during games and practices.
Toriscelli accompanied Dunn to Barrington after recently introducing him to the idea. The Bucs' trainer had previously dealt with the Gatorade scientists regarding another Tampa Bay player and had appreciated the findings.
Like Dunn, LB Alshermond Singleton seems to be more susceptible to in-game cramping than most. From the Gatorade analysis, conducted in a lab setting in Tampa during last January's Super Bowl, it was determined that Singleton's sweat contains 2.5 times more sodium than the average athlete.
That is clearly the source of Singleton's problem, and the treatment is simple. While the normal Gatorade sports drink is usually the perfect thing to consume during exertion, considering its six percent carb content, some athletes need a differently balanced solution. For those such as Singleton, Gatorade has developed, in the last year, a supplement called Gator Lytes, a packet of granular powder that can be added to a Gatorade drink to up the sodium content.
Dunn's cramping issue is not necessarily the same as Singleton's, and it will take a week or two for Toriscelli to receive the lab results. In Barrington, Dunn was asked to ride a stationary bike for an hour, in a room in which outdoor atmospheric conditions could be simulated. That's the first step in the plan to address Dunn's susceptibility to cramps.
"We now have a lab study of him on the bike for an hour," said Toriscelli. "During training camp, the Gatorade scientists are going to come down and analyze him in a practice situation. It's probably not practical to do it during a game, but there would be a difference in the amount of sweat and the contents of the sweat in the lab versus football. You just don't know until you test."
It's not as if the Bucs have simply shrugged their shoulders and accepted Dunn's cramps in the past. The problem has been duplicating the issue when there wasn't a game on the line.
"We've tried many, many things," said Toriscelli. "His problem is unique in that he doesn't cramp during training camp very much. His problem has been primarily in games, and we don't know if there's adrenaline involved or other issues."
Labs, field test, simulated conditions, scientists, chemical studies – are the Bucs turning the most basic of athletic ailments into an unnecessarily complicated issue? Ask yourself that question the next time the game is tied in the fourth quarter, the Bucs have the ball and Dunn is hooked up to an IV on the sideline.
"Yes, cramps are a part of the game, but we don't want them to be for Warrick, if we can help it," said Toriscelli. "If he has to come out of the game for a whole series to get treatment, that could seriously affect the outcome of the game. What we're trying to do is prevent ever having to take him out of a game because of cramping, and Gatorade scientists are trying to help us solve that problem."
Dunn has certainly not been hamstrung, so to speak, by this problem during his NFL career. In just four seasons, the former Florida State star has vaulted into second place on the Bucs' all-time rushing chart, racking up 3,753 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is the only running back in the top 20 to have a career average of over four yards per carry (4.1).
Dunn also has the longest rush in team history, a 76-yarder, two of the four longest and six of the 16 longest. Counting receptions, he has scored touchdowns on eight plays of 40 or more yards.
But that's exactly the point. With a player capable of making a game-turning play on any snap, the Buccaneers want to eliminate any obstacles to keeping him on the field.