Friday, April 22, 2011

Staying In Shape In A Shapeless Offseason

By Len Pasquarelli
Sports Xchange Senior NFL Writer

Director Clif Marshall from Ignition Performance of suburban Cincinnati is hearing more and more from agents of veteran NFL players who want structure in their off-season conditioning program, now that the NFL has locked out the players and made team facilities off-limits.

When his telephone rang on Wednesday morning, Clif Marshall wasn't so much surprised by the voice of the friend and agent at the other end of the line as he was by the player representative's request: The agent was calling to see if a veteran client who plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars, lives in Mississippi and had never been to Cincinnati, might travel North and make use of Marshall's facility in The Queen City to train and stay in shape during the lockout.

Such calls, Marshall told The Sports Xchange this week, have become a lot more commonplace as the lockout moves into a second week.

"I think we're going to see more and more of the veteran clients," said Marshall, the performance director at Ignition Performance in suburban Cincinnati, and a former Bengals staff member. "There's definitely been an increase already. And the longer this thing goes, the more we're likely to have."

The lockout, and the reality that it could linger for months and perhaps wipe out all the minicamps and OTAs and even delay the start of training camps in the summer, has prompted some diligent veteran players to seek alternatives. And now that the calendar has turned to a period of the year when many franchises would typically commence their offseason programs, and players are precluded by the lockout from using team facilities, many have turned to independent training programs.

Coaches around the league are clearly concerned about their players maintaining a semblance of football conditioning during the lockout.

"Let's hope," one AFC head coach told The Sports Xchange, "they don't forget about that stuff."

Mark Verstegen of API and CES' Chip Smith - two of the most well-known trainers in the country, and pioneers who helped turn a onetime cottage industry into much more than a niche pursuit, and who have both worked with dozens of first-round choices in advance of the combine over the past two decades - agree they have seen a marked increase in the number of veteran players suddenly making use of their renowned facilities.

Lesser-known training centers, with clientele that probably can't approximate that of Verstegen or Smith, have doubtless experienced the same. The number of veteran players, who normally would use team facilities this time of year, and perhaps get in an offseason week or so at a place like CES or API, is apt to increase at those places as the lockout goes on.

Some agents have adopted a more proactive approach in directing their clients to workout facilities they've used in the past to ready prospects for the combine. It has become a lesser-known, but still undeniable byproduct of the lockout.

"The phone has started ringing off the hook," said Smith, the founder of CES in Atlanta, and now other locales. "I think we have 15 or 20 (veterans) coming in next week. None of us likes to see this (lockout) happening, that's for sure, but definitely it's meant more business for us. This is normally a slower time for us, once the combine is over, but it's not slow now."

The Sports Xchange colleague Howard Balzer opined in an excellent column earlier this week that attorneys are going to make a lot more money now, with the labor dispute having moved from the negotiating table to the courtrooms. Well, the top trainers, like Smith, Verstegen, Marshall and others, figure to benefit as well.

Smith, who was in Blacksburg, Va., for the workout of former Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor when he phoned The Sports Xchange, noted that New Orleans offensive right tackle Jon Stinchcomb had phoned about training at the suburban Atlanta complex in coming weeks. And Stinchcomb, rehabilitating from knee surgery, probably will bring some linemates along with him.

Verstegen, who has for several years served as the director of performance for the NFLPA, has partnered with the decertified union to provide services to players at API's four facilities. The training is called "Solidarity Services," and the goal is to create what Verstegen and the players' association have termed a "Lockout Locker Room" for players who want to maintain conditioning during the work stoppage.

"We can create a kind of refuge for the players," Verstegen said via e-mail from Marco Island, Fla., where he was attending the NFLPA's annual meetings. "We want them to maintain training and rehabilitation and nutrition, and not to have that diminished. And guys know they can do it with us in top facilities and with world-class, proven and knowledgeable trainers."

The other beneficiaries of the lockout are college training programs, with veteran players returning to campuses to work out in facilities they once used. The cost is obviously cheaper - facilities such as API and CES can charge as much as $300-$500 per week - and there is a familiarity element as well.

Said Smith: "I was walking around down here in Blacksburg the other day, and I bumped into three or four guys who had trained with us in the past ... and had come back to Virginia Tech to work out. It's definitely happening. There are guys who simply might not have the (financial) wherewithal to be able to go to a facility, so they're turning to the college programs they know."

Since most well-known facilities have experienced and proven trainers, guys who have worked in the past with veterans seeking to maintain conditioning in this very strange offseason, the work is helpful. One downside is that players could suffer injuries while working out and, without a team- or league-maintained health plan in place, there could be some ramifications. Some players, in addition to paying for their own health plans now, have been forced to fund disability policies.

The boon for the training facilities, Marshall allowed, can be financially rewarding, but is nonetheless a bittersweet one.

"I've worked both sides," said Marshall, on the Bengals' staff 2005-07. "You feel for the (team-employed) trainers right now. They're usually accustomed to working right now with the players and they can't do it. But players have to do their work somewhere

Bengals working at staying in shape

article written by: Joe Reedy /

This would be the fourth week of the Bengals' offseason conditioning program if there had not been an NFL lockout.

Even though most of the Bengals are working out away from Cincinnati, defensive tackles Domata Peko and Tank Johnson, linebacker Rey Maualuga and wide receiver Jerome Simpson have been training at Ignition APG in Mason.

“It’s a work in progress right now. A lot of people are still in their hometowns but we’ve got a couple of guys here,” Peko said. “It’s been going great. We’re doing a little bit more now than what we would be doing at this time of the year.”

Ignition’s performance director Clif Marshall worked for the Bengals for three seasons and continues to work with the team during the offseason on speed drills.

This normally would be Marshall’s slow time of the year after working with draft prospects to prepare for the Scouting Combine and their Pro Days. But starting In February, Marshall received calls from players looking for places to work out in case of a lockout.

While some, like Bengals player rep Andrew Whitworth, has worried about if players are sticking as close as possible to their workout routines, Marshall says the players know what’s at stake if they don’t.

“This is their livelihood,” Marshall said. “They have to work on their craft. If they’re not in shape their jobs are going to be on the line. They need to be stronger, gain lean muscle mass and be quicker. Everything that we are doing is designed for football specific drills.” (from pushing sleds to drills for change of direction and agility).”

Marshall has designed a conditioning program that prepares players in case of shortened training camps and no preseason preparation. Normally there are 5-6 weeks of offseason conditioning followed by five weeks of organized team activities and a mandatory three-day minicamp.

This year it might be straight to training camp. Judge Susan Richard Nelson is expected to rule on the players’ injunction to lift the lockout next week, but that decision will likely will be appealed by the losing side. The players and owners began court-order mediation on Thursday.

Peko has already noticed an improvement and has called it one of his best seasons so far. Simpson also noted that he was in better shape this year compared to this point last year.

In addition to the Bengals, John Conner of the New York Jets, Connor Barwin of Houston, Tyjuan Hagler of the Colts, and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah of Dallas are working out at Ignition.

Others Bengals working out locally include cornerback Leon Hall, fullback Fui Vakapuna and offensive guard Otis Hudson, who are training at D1 in West Chester.

Peko hopes that more Bengals are in the area town by the end of the month and that they can work out as a team. Although not much football work is done this time of year, quarterback Jordan Palmer is getting the receivers together the week of April 25 for some on-field work.

When ever the lockout ends. and players can return to team facilities, Bengals union representative Andrew Whitworth hopes everyone is ready.

“You work and train hard and every time something happens (lockout related) it affects your mental focus on getting prepared,” said Whitworth, who is working out at home in Louisiana. “You hope everyone is focused on training and getting ready so that when we do get together as a team we’ll be ready physically. We have to be accountable to each other.”

Johnson, who is rehabilitating from a knee injury, realizes the lockout can’t stop players for preparing for the season.

“Clif provides us with the same thing we have over there (at the stadium),” Johnson said. “The only thing we don’t have is our trainers. As far as weight room and running it’s parallel to what (Bengals conditioning coach) Chip (Morton) offers.”
While plenty of players have shared views on the labor unrest, Johnson has decided staying silent is better.

Said Johnson: “Honestly my best policy over the whole process is to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. A lot of guys are getting caught up making these statements. I’d rather listen to both sides and gather my own conclusions.”


article written by: Joe Reedy /

While many Bengals players are still working out at their offseason locations, Jerome Simpson is part of a group training at Ignition during the lockout.

Simpson was part of a group at the Mason facility on Wednesday that included Domata Peko, Tank Johnson and Rey Maualuga. One advantage of working out at Ignition is that Clif Marshall was on the Bengals strength and conditioning staff from 2005-07 and also worked on speed drills with the team during recent offseason programs.

“I feel like I’m in better shape than I was last year,” Simpson said.

Whenever things get back to normal, Simpson will be counted on to be an important part of the offense. Given his chance to show what he could do in the final three games, Simpson had 20 receptions for 277 yards and three touchdowns, including 12 catches in the finale at Baltimore.

A talk with head coach Marvin Lewis following the Week 14 loss at Pittsburgh helped serve as a springboard to Simpson’s late-season run.

“Marvin knew some kind of changes had to be made late in the season and see what us young guys can do,” Simpson said. “The talk kind of eased his mind because he knew that I was still hungry and wanted to win our club some games. We couldn’t do it in the last game, I had a couple of mistakes and fumbles but I think we could have pulled that game out. I have to learn from my mistakes.

“(Over the last three games) I got the show the world what I could do. I feel like I could have been doing that from the beginning but there’s a reason why everything transpired like it did. I just took it in stride. It springboarded me to the offseason to keep working hard and just keep that faith that I can do anything that I want as long as I keep working.”

Even if the Bengals draft a receiver in the first round, it’s tough to imagine Simpson not being a part of the starting lineup. While a lot of people continue to wonder who will quarterback the Bengals, a receiving cast of A.J. Green or Julio Jones, Simpson, Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell with tight end Jermaine Gresham would be extremely intriguing. Yes, we still put the odds of Chad Ochocinco being on the opening day roster at slim but stranger things have happened with this team.

Said Lewis of Simpson during the league meetings: “I think he can be as good as any receiver in the National Footbball League. But now, he’s got to keep taking steps to learn and the adjustments you have to do, but he’s got that kind of quality.”

Simpson got to meet offensive coordinator Jay Gruden before the lockout and said that he thinks it will be a good fit. Among the things that Simpson is working on at Ignition are improving his lateral quickness and being better with his footwork.

The week of the NFL Draft, Simpson and most of the Bengals receivers will be in Southern California working out with Jordan Palmer.

“We’re going to go down there and get that bonding experience so that when we can go into camp we can be on the same page with each other,” Simpson said.