The question of the day is, are the NFL's "voluntary" off-season conditioning programs a big deal? Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich has caught some "flack" in many media outlets recently about his absence from the Jaguars voluntary off-season conditioning program currently taking place at the stadium formerly known as Alltel. To form an intelligent opinion about the subject, first we need to figure out what actually goes on at these programs, or maybe more important, what doesn't go on.
From all the research that I've found on the subject, the NFL off-season conditioning programs appear to be more of an actual workout, than any kind of football practice. Players run and do various exercises as any of us would do at our local gym. The program does not involve any kind of plays, verbiage, throwing, catching, or tackling drills. These activities are strictly prohibited by the NFL.
So why are these workouts important? To succeed in September, October, November, and beyond, players must be in great football shape, and to be in that shape, the work must begin now. So obviously, off-season workouts are vitally important. Now the real question, does it matter where the players workout? As far as I'm concerned, it really doesn't. Jaguars running back Fred Taylor went to Miami to workout last year and came to camp healthier than he had been in years. The end result, a career year for Taylor while splitting time and carries with Maurice Jones-Drew. Taylor stayed healthy for most of the season, and his play earned him a Pro-Bowl alternate honor.
So where is Fred Taylor working out this season? Obviously the same place he worked out last year, in Miami, this time with quarterback Byron Leftwich. Leftwich has been a lightening rod for controversy ever since the Jaguars made him the seventh pick in the 2003 draft, and it appears that his decision to work out in Miami with the workout pros down there has sparked even more controversy. Those who are "bashing" Leftwich about his decision note the need for him to get more acquainted with the new offensive coordinator and the new offense. They believe that he's missing out on valuable "face time". I could agree with them if these were actual off-season training sessions that involved football activities, or if the coaching staff weren't made aware of his plans. In recent interviews, both head coach Jack Del Rio and assistant head coach/offense, Mike Tice both said that they were aware of Leftwich's decision, and were supportive, as long as he was back for the actual football activities. They also said that Leftwich has been working out in Miami for the last month, and he expects to be strong for the upcoming season, a make-or-break one for both Leftwich and Del Rio.
So getting back to the initial question, are these off-season conditioning programs a big deal? After reviewing the facts, I have to answer with a resounding no. Byron Leftwich has been injured, and has missed time each year from 2004-2006. Each of those years he has done his off-season conditioning with the team. Fred Taylor worked out in Miami last year and came into camp in remarkable shape, what harm would it be for Leftwich to work out with the same people? Leftwich isn't the only player on the Jaguars roster working out elsewhere, as mentioned earlier,Taylor is obviously working out with Leftwich, and Maurice Jones-Drew has decided to workout with his longtime trainer in California. If these programs are so important, why is Taylor and Jones-Drew getting a free pass in the media and Leftwich not?
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