There’s working out and then there’s this

I just witnessed one of the most impressive training sessions — if you want to call it that, I’d liken it to boot camp or torture — that I’ve ever seen NFL players go through this afternoon at Chastain Park here in Atlanta. The participants/victims/masochists were Falcons players LB Coy Wire, RB Thomas Brown, RB Verron Haynes and Tampa Bay’s Jermaine Phillips, who is being converted from safety to linebacker.

Led by Wire’s trainer Jim Launer, who entered the session carrying about 15 feet worth of steel chains around his neck, the four players trained on a 60-yard hill that had about a 30-degree slope for a stunning hour and 15 minutes. The players started with agility drills, like broad jumps, shuffles and other plyometric-type work in 15- 20-yard bursts, uphill. Then, they did some crazy short chopping jumps for 5- to 10-yards before running 15-yard sprints up hills.

Launer then set up these orange hurdles that were between 8 inches and a foot high and put the players through a variety of skipping, hopping and sprint movements up and down the hill. By the time they were done, the players were in agony — and they were only mid-way through the process. They seemed to catch a second wind, though, a new gear that makes you understand why some guys are athletes and why others are professional athletes.

The most punishing phase of the workout came when they ran staggered sprints of 30-, 40-, 50- and 60-yards up the hill in allotted times. It was brutal. I was waiting for one of them to puke but I don’t think they had the energy. Compounding the torture, these players went through a vigorous leg workout the day before.

“Nobody worked harder than we did today,” Wire said. “They may have worked as hard, but they didn’t work harder.”

Phillips tried to be encouraging, telling the players they had to look at “The man in the mirror. It was time to make that change.” His sample of Michael Jackson wasn’t that needed, though, because these guys weren’t going to fold.

After they ran their last 60-yard hill, Wire gathered the players at the bottom of the mound and told them that after what they went through, they couldn’t finish at the bottom. They had to finish at the top, and he bolted for one more with the others on his heels. To say that was impressive is an understatement.

Though Wire, Phillips, Brown and Haynes aren’t the most well-known players, they’re among that extra-hungry group of guys trying to make their mark in their own way. Not everyone in the NFL is this dedicated or appreciative, especially with two weeks to rest up before training camp starts. I couldn’t help but respect what I saw.

Over the next few weeks, NFL.com and NFL Network will be profiling players who might not be the most popular or the most famous, but they are the type of people who appreciate the opportunity a lot of us would like to have to have to spend just one day in the NFL. To say the least, it’s inspiring stuff. What I saw today — and what you will see and read about soon — should move you.

Steve Wyche

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