The Bucs' new weight room (only partially pictured here) includes nearly 70 different types of machines, including about 30 the team has never utilized before
When Mike Morris opened his new place of work for business on Monday afternoon, there were 55 eager consumers waiting at the door, like break-of-dawn bargain hunters raiding the mall on the morning after Thanksgiving.
Morris wasn't selling anything, though, unless you count the promise of increased efficiency, improved productivity and – within this group of men – greater unity and camaraderie. Still, these 55 people at the door were eager to inspect the merchandise.
Morris' new place of the work is the palatial weight room at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new training facility, which is in its first week of operation. It is one of the many oversized wonders Buccaneer players are discovering at the stunningly equipped headquarters, alongside such vastly improved areas as the training room, the locker room and the team meeting rooms. The weight room is particularly easy to find, actually – it happens to be its own separate building, covering 16,000 square feet of space and connected to the east end of the main building by a stylized breezeway.
The first group of Buccaneers to use the new weight room came in after Monday's early-afternoon practice, which in itself says much about the draw of the new place. Two-thirds of the entire roster looking for a grinding workout after a two-hour practice in 95-degree heat? That's got to be a record.
"This has never been like this, ever," said Morris. "I've been here five years and I've never seen anything like it. It was amazing. And nothing was bogged down, no one was waiting for a machine."
The players just couldn't wait, and you can't blame them. A huge locker room is convenient and comfortable, a well-stocked dining room is a creature comfort and a giant cold tub means no waiting in the training room. But a state-of-the-art weight room connects to something very concrete for these athletes. The gains they will make in this hangar-sized room can very directly translate into how well they perform on the field, how successful and how healthy the remainders of their careers are.
At One Buccaneer Place, the team's home from 1976 through last week, the weight room was constrained by the overall size of the place, which was probably the smallest facility in the league. Even after several rounds of remodeling, it was still more cramped than most college facilities. Machines spilled out onto the back porch and there was room for only a few treadmills and stair-steppers. It was the same story in the weight room as in many places in the building – a strong support staff working with the complete backing of ownership, but with not enough room to do everything they wished to do.
"It had some limiting factors, but as coaches you adapt to whatever situation you're in," said Morris. "But, obviously, when you move into something enormous like this, you just become more creative. Now we can actually run the program the way we want to; we won't be limited in anything we want to."
Now, no team in the NFL can provide a better strength-training environment for their players than the Buccaneers.
"We're getting a great response from the players as they see the different machines and free-weight apparatus that we brought in here," said Morris. "This is an outstanding facility for us to do our program, do the things that we want to do. We won't be limited in anything that we do. We can be more creative with our in-season and off-season programs. We can help these guys get better every day, all year."
Those 55 first-time visitors worked out in unison, comfortably, because the weight room's floor is lined with six long rows of machines and free-weight racks. There are 60-70 different types of machines, about 30 of which are completely new to the Bucs' inventory. The large racks along the front row are big enough for players to work back-to-back, which means there will never be a wait for any weightlifting. And the machines are specific enough to bend to the need of any player on the team.
"We can isolate any muscle or part of the body," said Morris. "Say, for kickers we have a dual hip machine that they would use. We specify certain machines for certain players and we have some prototypes that we're going to put into use and see what kind of feedback we get. A lot of this stuff is unique."
In the past, as the Bucs have moved from one coaching staff to another and one strength and conditioning leader to another, the weight room's overriding philosophy has changed. One strength and conditioning coach might favor free weights over machines and stock only those; the next coach might believe in the opposite and clear out the weights to make room for new machines.
The Bucs' current program, under Morris and Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Kurt Shultz, doesn't believe in limiting its scope to one of those two philosophies. Tampa Bay players have access to weights and machines, and to coaches who are eager to devise specific regimens that will work for specific individuals
"I look at it this way: Those guys got to the NFL without me and they're going to continue to play without me if they go to another team," said Morris. "They've made the team and made Pro Bowls without me. They've come from all different programs. If a player feels threatened by what's being pushed on him, he's going to go back to what he's used to doing and he's going to do it somewhere else. So you have to adapt as a strength and conditioning coach to what they need and what they're used to. You don't give in on the overall plan, but you get them working within that plan in a way they comfortable."
Morris and Shultz want to get creative, and the new facility gives them unprecedented space to stretch their minds. That's the real advantage of the room's enormity – no idea needs to be shelved due to a lack of space. And any number of creative, individual programs can be run simultaneously, with enough machines and racks for everyone to reach their goals.
"We have a lot of adaptability, and we think that's the direction that strength and conditioning in the NFL is headed," said Morris. "You have to take into consideration the different needs of the different players. As an example, a player's age may have an effect on the way they want to work out. A 10th-year veteran may not want to do something the same way a first-year guy would. We can tailor a program to any individual and help them achieve their goals."
The Bucs have reached this wonderful jumping-off place in terms of their strength training program for the same reasons the entire state-of-the-art facility was able to arise from a patch of dirt in less than a year: Planning and dedicated hard work. Morris and Shultz combined their two backgrounds – Morris is a former Olympic-level sprinter with an NFL background in free weights and Shultz is the former strength and conditioning coach with a background in machines – to create their perfect list of equipment. Over the course of six months, they researched the topic, continually edited their shared list and acquired their selections, always with the complete backing of ownership.
The result is the best of both worlds.
"In the NFL, there are two principles – there are free weights and there are machines," said Morris. "There's no right and wrong between the two. They each have their strengths and they each have their weaknesses. But if you can combine those things and come out with something that's tailored for the athlete, then they'll work with you. You just have to be creative with them. If somebody wants to try something else, then let's try it. That's okay, as long as you're doing it within the team framework. That's all we ask."
Morris, in fact, believes in the value of a program that is constantly changing, as long as it's based on the correct underlying fundamentals.
"The goal is this: To have them work out together," he said. "Anybody can work out as an individual. But as a team? That's our concept. That's our focus – work as a group, work as men, spend time together. That's why we've changed what we do. We're not going to do the same thing over and over."
The team also wants to encourage strength training by giving the weight room a very inviting atmosphere. As such, it has been fitted with a sensational sound system, a must in any workout area. Also, the wall that faces the field is dominated by six large garage-style doors that can be rolled up to let in the outside air during the nicer portions of the year. There is a strong air-conditioning system, of course, and the room's many windows keeps the place bright and uplifting.
"For what we do, working with large groups of men, this is just what we need," said Morris. "We're going to be able to work so smoothly. Guys can get in here, get done what they need to get done and get home to their families. In the offseason, they don't have to go to Bally's or Lifestyle or whatever. They can come here. We've got everything they need.
"Everything that we have is state-of-the-art, no question. As Coach Gruden and Derrick Brooks would say, we're on the cutting edge now."