Photo Report: Off-season drills

The NCAA strictly limits what can and cannot be done during off-season work, and except for Ben Pollard's Strength and Conditioning staff the formal interaction between coaches and athletes essentially doesn't exist. But whether inside 'throwing' weights or outside sprinting under the July sun--progress continues. And regular 'players only' pass skel drills are directed by the squad seniors.

Easily one of the best conditioned athletes on the squad, Antonio Carter takes off from the line during pass skel work. Though normally the seniors take the lead in organizing these voluntary drills, 'AC' is one of the more vocal 'directors' on the squad.

Jarrett Johnson and Brandon Miree perform hose hops 'at the beach.' One of the reasons Coach Pollard likes the sand pit so much is that it cushions the blow to joints, greatly lessening the risk of injury to the larger linemen. With this exercise, agility is everything. As one assistant explained, the less time your feet remain on the ground, the faster you are.

As Darius Gilbert (right), Saleem Rasheed (middle) and Hirchel Bolden (left) demonstrate, all eyes are on on the offensive man as the players wait for the snap. Gilbert finished spring at middle linebacker, but the senior can play either inside or out.

If any player can challenge Rasheed and Aries Monroe for 'best guns' on the squad, it's true sophomore Cornelius Wortham. Since arriving on campus last fall, he's worked hard in the weight room and the effort is obviously paying off.

After he finished spring either fourth- or third-string at cornerback, the coaches decided to give Ray Hudson a try on offense. Shown here throwing the football before pass skel begins, Hudson is a powerful athlete with very good speed, which makes him an intriguing possibility at tailback.

One question the fans wonder about most is the relative conditioning of several key linemen. Beyond saying that they're continuing to make progress, the coaches decline to talk about specific weights. But as the photo of Dante Ellington running wind sprints shows, he (and several others) have discarded some excess baggage over the past couple of months. Ellington has always been broad across the shoulders, but note the flapping t-shirt around the big lineman's waist.

Some of the drills may look a bit odd, but the sand-pit exercises are all designed to make the players better athletes. Here, junior Hirchel Bolden shows good form while 'ice skating.' The idea is to push up and out, balancing in turn on each leg while emphasizing technique over speed. "Proprioception" is the five-dollar word, but as Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach Steve Martin explains, that simply refers to the process of developing the muscles', tendons' and ligaments' ability to efficiently work together to maximize balance within and around the joints.

While the coaches are proud of their new 'toy,' the players' feelings about 'going to the beach' are more mixed. As anyone who has played beach volleyball knows, running and jumping in sand requires significantly more effort than grass. And as the photo of Triandos Luke emptying sand out of his shoes demonstrates, the athletes end up with more than just sweat to deal with following practice.

When sand work and wind sprints are done the practice session is finished, but the athletes don't simply walk off the field. "Break it down on Saleem!" is the call. And despite fighting the heat and fatigue, the squad members gather for a last moment as a group before heading off.

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