Run, Run, Run
During the winter the team focuses on developing the endurance and conditioning of the players. Many players generally run at 6 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This includes some distance work but the primary focus is on sprinting. "Distance runs help them warm up, but also help their stamina, but football is about speed, so there's a big focus on sprints," an observer explained.
After a standard warm-up jog around the field to open a session, most winter run sessions involve the players running "110s" and "300s." Aside from the standard 40-yard dash, the players regularly run 110-yard and 300-yard dashes. These are sprints where the players have to beat a set time based on their position and presumed ability.
In some cases players will run individually, but in other instances the entire unit will run and share a countdown for several sets. In some runs the players will break up into groups by position like the following:
Group A: WR, DB, RB
Group B: LB, FB, QB, DE, TE
Group C: OL, DL
These groupings are similar to what is used for July's Lift For Life competition — matching players based on their size, speed and agility — and on what their positions demand of them.
In this case, Group A, typically the faster of the three groups, will have about 54 seconds to sprint the 300-yard distance. Group B will have 56 seconds and Group C will have 65 seconds.
As one practice observer explained previously, "Obviously [the players] will never run 300 yards in one shot during a game; but if their bodies can handle 300 consistently, it's a good bet they can handle 20 or 40 easily."
The players are also expected to regularly beat their times, which are periodically "shaved down" to make the runs more challenging and "to get each player to continually push themselves out there."
A major focal point in the winter months is weight room conditioning. Players have a set schedule where they work various parts of their upper and lower bodies, focusing various sets on arms, shoulders, torso (chest and back), midsection, and upper and lower legs. Like their runs they have weight and rep "milestones" which they are expected to meet regularly.
The players have set stations and exercises for each section of the body. For instance, when working the legs they will focus on exercises like leg curls and leg presses.
Much of the conditioning, aside from preparing the players for the coming season, is also used to improve their physical shape for spring practice and the Lift For Life competition in July — a key off-season measurement point for the team.
Lifting takes place consistently on a weekly basis as often as five days per week with each day focusing on a different area of a player's physique. Many player have early (6 a.m.)lifting sessions, which ":can take some getting used to for the new guys."
A member of the strength and conditioning staff takes each player through his workout. Everyone pitches in on these duties, from head strength coach John Thomas to speed coach Jeremy Scott to a variety of graduate and student assistants.
During particular afternoon sessions the players are focused on a standard set of drills which test agility, skill, endurance and fundamentals. These drills are "mandatory" as agreed upon and enforced by the players since coaches are unable to participate in these sessions due to NCAA guidelines.
These drills are conducted in shorts and T-shirts. Helmets and pads are not allowed.
Drill 6: Drill 6 allows the skill players to practice passing schemes in a 7-on-7 format. It allows the quarterbacks, wideouts, tight ends and running backs to work in a variety of offensive looks while matching up against linebacker and secondary assignments. These drills are typically "focused on fundamentals like clean breaks off the line, route-running, creating separation, and working the timing of passes."
In the early work, quarterbacks Kevin Newsome, Matt McGloin, Paul Jones and Brett Brackett have each had the opportunity to run Drill 6 with the first-team wideouts, which have seen a rotation of Graham Zug, Chaz Powell, Derek Moye, Justin Brown, Devon Smith and A.J. Price and at times.
1v1/2v2: The 1v1 and 2v2 drills are basically one-on-one and two-on-two sets where offensive linemen are matched up with defensive assignments and are tested on their ability to engage, shift, roll or pull on the defensive linemen. These drills focus on each offensive lineman's skills of engaging, setting and holding their blocks and on the defensive linemen's ability to "break the block" and create leverage.
Read-React: The read-react drills test a player's instincts and "the second nature of their reactions." There are a variety of drills of this nature that various positions can use. One of the sets involves a player surrounded by six to eight of his teammates and he has a "contact pad" (a pad which resembles a shield). The players in the circle randomly "attack" the player in the center, charging him. The player has to anticipate the hit by shifting positions, setting his base and taking the blow.
Agility Drills: The players will also work on agility drills — timed sessions used to test footwork and hand-eye coordination, much in the manner of the old tire run drills. Often the players are required to quickly traverse obstacles to work their agility.
This work will continue until Penn State's spring break, which runs from March 8-12.
Then it is back at it for the stretch run before the start of spring practice, which is tentatively set for to start March 22. As with all PSU practice dates and times, this one is subject to change. But the Blue-White Game will be played April 24, which is a set date.
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