May 31, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- Not that Joe Thomas would recommend the “Lockout Fitness Workout” to anyone beyond a one-time trial offer. But he expects to be in the best shape of his NFL career when the lockout is over. And that’s saying a lot following four-straight Pro Bowl seasons at left tackle with the Cleveland Browns.
“I actually think I’m in better shape now than where I would be,” Thomas said.
Than where he would be?
In late May or early June, he was then asked, “Where would he be?”
“I would probably be in practice right now,” Thomas said.
Since March 12 when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expired, Thomas and his NFL fraternity brothers have been locked out; necessitating an alternate plan. So for the last two months, he has been working out four times a week on the UW campus where he once starred for the Badgers.
Mondays and Thursdays have been high intensity workouts. “Where,” Thomas said, “I’m doing lower body – squatting; doing a chain squat or speed squad – and I’m doing my heavy sprinting whether it’s ramp starts, sled pulls or free sprints from a push-up stance.”
Tuesdays and Fridays have been upper body and tempo workouts. “Where,” he said, “I’m doing less, maybe 75 percent of full-speed sprinting; trying to get a little more volume on the running but dialing the intensity down to allow my body to recover from the previous day’s work.”
On this particular day, Thomas is working with a medicine ball, weighing somewhere between 20 and 30 pounds. Standing on the goal line, he holds the ball at chest level, launches it forward, jogs to the ball, and repeats the sequence the length of the practice field in the McClain Indoor Facility.
At various intervals, Thomas uses different release points, whether out of a crouch or over his head. “It’s more position specific,” he said, “because you’re trying to get your body in the same positions to recruit the same muscles as you would if you were on the practice field or doing drills.”
Nothing is done haphazardly. Nothing is left to chance. Nothing is overlooked.
On the day that he’s sprinting up the ramp – leading from the weight room to field level at the McClain Facility – Thomas says, “This is a good way to work on your maximum effort sprinting without having to put the maximum pounding and strain on your knee joints, hips and ankles.”
Thomas begins his workouts around 10 a.m. They last between two and three hours.
“I’m self-motivated, so it’s no problem for me to come out here four days a week and get myself in shape and get myself stronger,” said the 26-year-old Thomas, a consensus All-American at the UW and the 2006 Outland Trophy winner. “I’m a guy who likes being in the weight room, and I like running.
“I know the exercises. I know what my body should feel like. I know where my heart rate should be, so I can monitor what I should be doing. It’s actually very similar to what Brian Bott is doing here.”
Bott, a member of the UW strength and conditioning staff, has been shepherding the UW offensive linemen alumni through their out-of-season programs. Because of the NFL lockout restrictions, Thomas is not allowed to have contact or dialogue with Cleveland’s strength coach and/or assistants.
“Brian Bott is very knowledgeable,” Thomas said. “He knows the linemen and he’s not afraid to pick up the phone and call guys. He’s got a number of contacts in the NFL. He’s just a really smart guy who knows how to apply the science on the field and in the weight room.”
One of Bott’s contacts is Tom Myslinski, the head strength and conditioning coach for football at the University of North Carolina. Myslinski spent five years with the Cleveland Browns during which time Thomas came under his wing. Once the players were locked out, Thomas got in touch with Myslinski.
“I called him up and Tom sent me the information,” Thomas said, “so that I’m doing the same exact workouts that I was pretty much doing my first three years with the Browns.”
The only difference has been the time element. He has more time to devote to the workouts.
“If I was in the OTA’s right now,” he said of the Organized Team Actitivities, “I’d be thinking about football – on the field or watching film – and I’d be cutting short my weight room and sprinting. So I actually think I’m stronger and in better shape than if I wasn’t locked out.
“As far as lifting weights – that’s by the book. But auxiliary stretching and recovery things sometimes get cut short because you’re running to a meeting or you’re running to do position work with your coach. Those are things that get overlooked when you’re worried about practice and film study.”
Thomas doesn’t have to worry about being on a clock during the lockout.
But he does worry about the intangibles, like building team camaraderie.
“That’s a big loss,” he said. “The other big loss for linemen is just playing football. On Tuesday and Fridays at the end of my workouts, I do individual position football, where I’m hitting a bag or punching using boxing hand pads. I’m trying to stay up with that side of things, too.”
Pausing to reflect on what he misses the most about minicamps, he said, “There’s nothing like lining up against a guy who’s rushing full speed and being able to get back into that sort of framework.”
Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy has presided over two offensive skill camps for receivers. One was held at the University of Texas, another at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio (where the Browns normally train). McCoy has a third camp scheduled for Austin in early June.
“It’s really hard for a lineman to take part in something like that because we can’t do one-on-one stuff,” Thomas said. “We can’t go against other players because the injury risk is too high, especially without helmets and other equipment. There’s really not a whole lot we can do (as linemen).”
That helplessness is a by-product of the lockout.
So what’s going to happen?
“I wish I knew,” said Thomas, shrugging his broad shoulders. “You think that you understand what’s going on, and you think you understand the different paths that this thing could take and all of a sudden something else happens … It’s just crazy.”
The 318-pound Thomas just completed a nine-week training block in Madison.
“I’m about to start a new training block which typically would be the time of the year when we’re in OTA’s or minicamps,” he said. “Since I’m not doing that I can keep it amped up and get in two training blocks where during a normal off-season I’d get one.
“I feel like I’ll probably be better prepared going into training camp as far as strength, speed and conditioning but I’ll be behind on the football specific things which will just entail knocking the rust off.”
As of now, he has no plans on returning to Cleveland.
“It depends on how long this thing goes,” he said of the lockout. “If we’re getting towards the date when training camp will start and it looks like we may be closer to an agreement, I may go back. The last thing you’d want to have happen is to have to move back one day and start camp.
“You want to have a little wiggle room to get comfortable moving back home to Cleveland.”
Until then, the McClain Facility will continue to be his home away from home.