The Bucs' 2001 Offseason Strength and Conditioning Program officially began on Monday when Charles Kirby and a few teammates walked in at 7:00 a.m.
Marcus Jones sat at his locker inside One Buccaneer Place, shoulders slumped, towel over his head. A locker room visitor decided against speaking to Jones, instead allowing him to recover from his workout in peace.
Fifteen minutes later, the visitor came back through the locker room. Jones hadn't moved.
Don't misinterpret this picture. Jones is neither weak nor out of shape. Quite the contrary; Jones had just finished the highest intensity workout designed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' strength staff, and he was palpably fatigued, perhaps even a bit nauseous from the exertion.
The Buccaneers began their 16-week offseason strength and conditioning program on Monday, but this scene was actually from the previous Friday. Jones was alone in the locker room that afternoon, as he was one of just a handful of players utilizing the weight room last week. By working out in advance of the official voluntary program, Jones was putting himself in a position to hit the ground running when many of his teammates returned.
And they returned in force on Monday. On the first day of the program, which will stretch into mid-July and end just a week or two before training camp, 31 Buccaneers, many of them core veterans, made the trek to One Buc. "It was a good start," said Strength and Conditioning Coach Mark Asanovich.
Though Jones jumped right into the 'super-duper-high' intensity workout on Monday – "He's just one of those guys, a workaholic," said Asanovich – most of the attendees eased into the program with a workout a few levels down the scale. February and March is the only long stretch of real downtime for NFL players, and many use it to rest, recharge and clear their heads. Asanovich's late-January letter to all players recommends five to seven weeks of physical and mental recovery, though he suggests continued involvement in recreational activities and low-intensity aerobic exercises.
So the first week or two is time to shake of the rust – or the fat, if any has snuck onto their usually toned physiques – and get back into the rhythm of working out.
"Most of the guys opt for the high-volume, high-intensity (workout), which is real common in the first week, week-and-a-half," Asanovich explained. "Then they come in that third week and go into the super-high pace. If they jump right into the super-highs after not doing anything, it's just miserable.
"But we've got our exceptions, like Marcus. He comes in right off the bat and does the super-duper-high (workout)."
The day started for Asanovich and his crew at 7:00 a.m., when the first wave of players walked in the door. First up on Monday to officially kick off the program were George Hegamin, Karl Williams, Brian Kelly, Charles Kirby, Nate Webster and Chartric Darby. Each player is worked through his routine individually by Asanovich, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Les Ebert or one of their volunteer assistants.
The day ended around 2:00 p.m., after Warren Sapp and Jacquez Green, the last two scheduled players, finished their workouts. Asanovich was relatively pleased with the first-day turnout.
"As a strength coach, I always want more, and I think there will be more as we go along, but that's higher than the league average," he said. "I think the thing that I'm most excited about is the players that are stepping up and saying, 'Hey, listen, I'm going to be there.'
"I'm talking about guys like John Lynch, who has stayed in California in the offseason. Now, I never worried too much about John, because you know he's training, but he's taking on an active leadership role. He's saying, "I'm staying,' and now other guys from California, like Brian Kelly, are staying, too. They'll probably be more involved this year. Donnie Abraham's another one. He traditionally stays up in South Carolina but now he's going to be here. Then you look at a guy like Keyshawn, who generally stays out in California. Now it looks like, after mini-camp, he's going to be here the whole time."
A few players ended their first session in the same condition that Jones was in on Friday, or worse. In fact, Asanovich reports that about eight Bucs worked out to the point of nausea on Monday.
"The first week is always a challenge because they've been off for seven to eight weeks, weeks of disuse and non-conditioning," he said. "So, yeah, they're going to come back a little bit weaker and out of condition. This first week is always interesting, because we've got guys running to the bathroom throwing up."
While Asanovich doesn't plan to have his workouts interrupted by dashes to the restroom, he does admit that it's a sign of guys putting out maximum effort.
"That's not the purpose of our protocols, to make guys puke," he said. "The purpose is to make muscular and metabolic changes, but sometimes that's what happens. But the reason why they're puking is that they're working really hard. They're not puking unless it's exercise-induced, and if it's exercised induced, they're working real hard."
After a fine first day, Asanovich will see many of the same faces again on Tuesday for the first day of the 'conditioning' half of the strength and conditioning program, which is mostly running. This takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are weight training days. A player must participate in four workouts each week to get his weekly program stipend.
Some higher intensity workouts are counted as one-and-a-half or two sessions. That can shorten up a player's time commitment during the week but, as Jones could tell you, it isn't easy.