Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Raiders Passing Camp at CES: Behind the Scenes Account

Buford High School is used to the spotlight. The Wolves have won four straight Georgia state titles and seven of the last nine, but this week a different caliber of star stepped onto the field. The Oakland Raiders arrived in town.

Because contact with coaches is not allowed, NFL team workouts are up to the players. Around the league some players are practicing routes while others are running seven on seven drills. Raiders veteran Richard Seymour had another idea in mind.

It just so happens that Seymour lives around the corner from one of the nation's top sports performance training facilities, Competitive Edge Sports. A few weeks ago Seymour reached out to founder Chip Smith and set up a four day structured mini camp. He then reached out to his teammates and invited them to attend.

I asked Seymour if it was true he paid for the whole camp. "Nah, it's just a rumor," he replied, but we both knew he was just being modest.

The Raiders arrived bright and early for day one field training. Seymour showed up first, followed by the offensive linemen. One by one the players such as Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy, Darren McFadden, Rolando McClain and Kamerion Wimbley filed in ready to begin the day. Not everyone showed up on time but when all was said and done over 30 players participated in the workouts.

Upon arrival the players noticed lots of equipment: resistance cords, Stinchcomb harnesses, snatchback cords, shackles, etc... As an observer even I was wary of all the contraptions.

The atmosphere was filled with excitement as teammates greeted each other. After Chip introduced himself, Seymour said a few words and then it was time to get to work.

CES trainer Tripp Smith led the team through ballistic warm-ups and quick foot ladders. The guys were winded but there was no time to waste as they quickly broke into groups for position specific training.

Next up a team favorite, seven on seven. Quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Kyle Boller took turns directing the offense. It was obvious Campbell, constantly with playbook in hand, is truly embracing his leadership role.

Ready for a reprieve from the hotlanta heat the team headed back to CES for lunch and lifting. The weight room was a madhouse with guys everywhere, music blasting, the sound of weights and bars clanging along with the screams of encouragement to just do one more rep.

Day two started with more field drills, consisting of release harnesses, reaction coach, the dreaded Mama Bird drill and "Chip-O-Meters." Inventor Chip Smith designed this piece of equipment to give the athlete overspeed in flexion of the foot and resistance in extension of the foot. Basically cords are attached to both a harness on your body and straps on your feet.

About this time a bus pulled up with players who train at a facility based in Orlando. These guys were in town with a colleague of Smith's, Tom Shaw. This group consisted of former Viking and free agent Javon Walker, Steelers unrestricted free agent Ike Taylor, Patriots BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cardinals D'Anthony Batiste, Titans Myron Rolle, Jaguars Greg Jones and Chargers free agent Travis Johnson.

The Raiders and Shaw's guys played a little seven on seven. Oakland ran plays from their playbook while Shaw's team was not as scripted. It seemed everyone enjoyed catching up and appreciated a little healthy competition.

As the players left the field, the Atlanta Falcons, who also use Buford's field, arrived. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones greeted Raider players. With all this NFL star power on the field you would think we were at the Pro Bowl!

Back at CES headquarters players were treated to lunch, consulted with nutrition expert Marie Spano and some took advantage of the top notch CES rehab and prehab medical team.

Next on the agenda was the infamous CES pool workout. Now if you are thinking that pool day is an easy day than you are mistaken. These guys were attached to resistance cords as they tried to swim and used resistance bands in the water for upper body work. Let me tell you this workout is no joke. Pool day may be a rest for your joints, but that is the only thing that gets a rest on this day!!

Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey left a satisfied customer stating "the pool workout was a different kind of workout, but it was good."

Punt returner/wide receiver Nick Miller told me he didn't know what to expect. "I've done pool workouts before, but normally it's swimming laps. We got here and I saw the bands and that kinda threw me for a loop, I didn't know what to expect. It was a lot of hard work and just when we thought we were done we had to go do more, do the bands and the shoulders. It kicked my butt and it was good work."

Campbell tweeted "the pool workout with resistance bands was one of the best workouts I've done because it's working every muscle in the body at once."

CES director of sports performance lifting Robby Stewart complimented the guys, "as a group they worked hard and did a great job for their first time through the CES pool workout."

Seymour's goals for the week included: building team camraderie, reminding everyone to take care of themselves physically so they are ready to go when the lockout ends and hopefully picking up a few tips from the CES staff along the way.

As an observer I would say the Raiders time at CES not only fulfilled but exceeded expectations.

Follow me on Twitter: @Courtney_Sweet

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

2011 West Virginia Football Preview

What do you do when your program is ranked 78th in the nation in offense? You go out and get the nation's hottest offensive genius. That is exactly what West Virginia did by snatching up former Oklahoma State offensive assistant, Dana Holgorsen.

Offensive coordinator Holgorsen and his newly hired staff will implement a new scheme. Improving the Mountaineers offense, which ranked 5th among the Big East in scoring last year, is a priority.

Leading the way for the Mountaineers is junior quarterback Geno Smith. He should shine in Holgorsen's new offense as it is suited to showcase his strengths. Helping Smith in the high octane offense will be receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Brad Starks.

While West Virginia new offense focuses on the air attack, they must replace running back Noel Devine. In Holgorsen's system running the ball efficiently is far more important than total production. In other words the threat of the running game opens up the passing game. Look for Shawne Alston and freshman Andrew Buie to make some noise in the backfield.

With the defense returning just four starters, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has his work cut out for him. Last years squad was ranked among the top five defenses in the nation.

The Mountaineers 3-3-5 defense scheme works best with a veteran squad. Casteel will rely heavily on Bruce Irvin and Jullian Miller, both returning up front, cornerback Keith Tandy and safety Terence Garvin who was last year's team leading tackler.

Rebuilding the defense will give newcomers the opportunity to start right away. Keep an eye out for linebacker Josh Francis. He is fast and will be used along side Irvin in blitz situations.

Another player who will most likely work his way into the starting lineup is defensive lineman Shaq Rowell. The 6'3, 310 pound junior college transfer may fill the void left by departing All-Big East player Chris Neild. The Mountaineers are counting on Rowell making an impact.

Coach Bill Stewart and West Virginia fans have several reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season. They are excited about implementing Holgorsen's explosive offense, the defensive staff is among the nation's best and should be able to mold a new crop of defensive stars, plus the Mountaineers have a favorable schedule this year (five of their first six games are at home and a total of seven including the Pitt game will be in Morgantown).

West Virginia may be revamping and rebuilding this season, but don't expect this to be a down year by any means. On the contrary they may just have what it takes to ascend to the top of Big East. Regardless this team should be fun to watch!

Follow me on Twitter: @Courtney_Sweet

49ers Colin Kaepernick has Luck on His Side

Andrew Luck staying in school was the best thing that could have happened to Colin Kaepernick, but not for the reasons you might think.

Without offseason OTAs, minicamps or workouts the rookies are feeling the lockout effects. Not to mention with the lockout lifted for only the first day of the draft, those chosen on the second and third day missed receiving the most important information of their young career, the playbook.

No need to worry 49ers fans, your new rookie quarterback is in better shape than some other rookies around the league. Kaepernick is in the best position he could possibly be in considering communication is not allowed with the San Francisco organization.

Here is the scenario.

Jim Harbaugh left Stanford to coach the 49ers. Andrew Luck, Stanford's starting quarterback for the last three years, happens to be 15 minutes away from the 49ers headquarters. Unable to receive a playbook Kaepernick has the next best thing in Luck, a living breathing playbook. Nobody knows the ins and outs of Harbaugh's offense better than Luck.

According to his agency XAM Sports, training between the two is not happening right now, but it would not surprise anyone if it happens in the future. Kaepernick believes Luck is a great resource. "Especially if the lockout stays on I'm going to try and pick his brain as much as I can and try to get a jump start into this offense and pick up as much as I can."

Luck and Kaepernick became friends last summer at the Manning Pass Academy and have stayed in touch. Who would have guessed these players would possibly spend this offseason working out together. Heading into your rookie season with a lockout in place is daunting, but fortunately Colin Kaepernick has Luck on his side.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Meet Eagles First Round Pick Danny Watkins

Drafting an offensive lineman in the first round may not be the flashy pick, but let's be honest it's the pick that allows other positions to shine. This is exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles were banking on when drafting Baylor offensive guard Danny Watkins.

Canadian native Watkins grew up playing hockey, but his size (6'3, 310) made it difficult to pursue a career in the NHL. Watkins attended Butte Junior College in Chico, CA with the intention of earning a degree in fire sciences and returning home to be a firefighter. A friend encouraged Watkins to try out for the junior college football team and it's been a whirlwind for Danny ever since.

After two years at Butte, he landed at Baylor University, making an immediate impact. This was no small fete considering he stepped in to fill the shoes of the 2009 2nd overall pick, Jason Smith. Watkins started all 25 games of his career, and in his senior season recorded 134 tackles plus earned first team All-Big 12 honors. Not bad for a guy who only had two years of previous football experience!

Coach Andy Reid is hoping Watkins will add muscle to an offensive line that's in need of some help. His versatility is appealing (at some point he's played all positions on the line), he's a quick learner with a good work ethic and while some may be cautious about his age, his maturity is something the Eagles are counting on.

Michael Vick's ability to scramble outside of the pocket masked some weaknesses of the Eagles interior, but even still the line allowed 50 sacks last year, the most in Reid's 12 years as head coach. Face it, even as dynamic of a player as Vick is, he can't keep that pace up year after year.

Obviously a top priority for the Eagles is beefing up their line so players like Vick, Jackson and McCoy can shine even brighter. Reid is extremely pleased he got his guy, "He's a heck of a player in the run and pass game. I can't tell you how happy we are to have him in our program."

Watkins story isn't typical of a first round pick, but he's a first round pick nonetheless. In my opinion any guy planning to run into burning building for a living should be able to handle the pressures of being an NFL lineman. Now living up to the expectation of Philly fans, that's a whole different story!!