Once upon a time, back in the dim recesses of history, the primary purpose of NFL training camps was getting the players back in shape. Most of the players would take the off part of the off season seriously, and many would work other jobs (this was the era of five figure salaries, when the practice squad was called the taxi squad because so many of the people on it drove cabs as their real job). Some would work out, but quite a few did very little and spent most of training camp getting the muscles toned back up and shedding some excess weight.
Things have certainly changed. Now, not coming into training camp in shape can have a serious impact on your career. Ask Montrae Holland.
One of the much debated topics around here (although almost all the topics around here can spur impassioned arguments) is how much impact the lack of an off season program had on the Dallas Cowboys last year, and how much improvement might be brought about by the first full off season with Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Woicik. I have some pretty strong opinions on that myself, falling into the group that thinks he can duplicate the success he had back in the glory days with the early nineties Cowboys and the New England Patriots in the aughts. But it occurred to me that I really don't know much about the off season programs for either individual players or the team. And with the changes under the new CBA, I though it might be good to take a look at what is coming up in the realm of minicamps, organized team activities, and personal training.
The facts of the matter after the jump.
I wasn't sure just how to go about getting the information on this, so I did some exhaustive research. Which amounted to asking someone smarter than me about the subject. A big tip of the hat to Birddog26, who provided the CBA details and the background information for most of this.
The biggest thing that has happened is that the formal offseason program has been cut from a maximum of fourteen to nine weeks.This is the only time during the offseason that the coaches can actually work with the players. One huge impact is that it drastically cuts down the time to educate and evaluate new players.
The CBA further defines and limits what can be done during certain periods of the program, stipulating when the teams are allowed to do certain things. There are three phases (I am attempting to define the terms from the CBA as best I can):
Phase one: Two weeks in duration. The teams are limited to strength and conditioning activities only, and only the S&C coaches are allowed on the field with the players. This is termed "dead ball", which seems to mean that the teams cannot run plays or do anything with the football other than just exercise.
Phase two: Three weeks in duration. Individual and unit drills are allowed, the latter termed "perfect play", but they are limited to one unit only. The defense and offense cannot line up against each other, but can just run the plays without the opposing unit on the field. All the coaches are allowed on the field now.
Phase three: Four weeks. This is when the team is allowed to actually go into OTAs and a one week minicamp. There are 10 OTAs, which are one day in duration. There are a maximum of three per week for the first two weeks, and four are allowed for the third or fourth week, with the minicamp being the other week. This apparently means that the team can elect to finish the offseason with the minicamp week, or it can have minicamp and then close out with a week with four OTAs.
The strict limits have been established as a result of the creeping requirements on players to attend OTAs in the past, even though they were sometimes termed "voluntary". The earliest the OTAs can start is May 1st.
That is not a great deal of time. And obviously, in the NFL today the players are doing a lot more to stay in shape. With the high salaries available, most players are going to make sure they stay in condition. The teams are able to recommend workout routines, although they cannot of course control what the players do. The workouts focus on three areas, strength, speed & agility, and endurance. But the players are not allowed to workout at the team facility or work with the S&C coaches if they pass the "exit" physical at the end of the season. If they do not pass it, they are allowed to continue in a rehab program at the team facility under team supervision.
To make up for not being able to work at the team facility, many players turn to one or both of the other ways to get a coordinated workout. One is to work with a private, independent coach. It is sort of a personal trainer, but someone who is very familiar with football and who likely is able to find out what a player's team is wanting them to do. They will probably be specialists in a certain type of player, like wide receivers or linebackers, and each coach may have several clients.
The other way is to attend a professional workout center. Going back to Montrae Holland, our beloved Lumpy, after he was cut from the Cowboys at the start of the season, he got serious and went to a camp for offensive linemen in Westlake, Ohio, where he got over his injuries and dropped some of his excess weight. There are a variety of camps around the nation. Birddog forwarded me this link for the IMG Academies Sports Performance Institute. The camp mostly talks about how it grooms college players for the draft, but there are several Cowboys veterans who will be going there in the next few weeks. It is a big, very sophisticated operation in Bradenton, Florida, covering 400 acres. There are other destinations that will host some of your favorite players as well.
This is a brief look at what the off season holds for the Cowboys. I hope it will give you a better feel for what the team will be trying to do with the players, and what they will have to take responsibility for themselves. I know I feel a little smarter now.