Longshot receiver making most of chance

Quinn hopes to join NFL stars that he trained with on the field this fall

Johnny Quinn is far, far away from the Favre Furor, Indecision '08 or whichever moniker this summer's bizarre twist of fate eventually is given.

Quinn isn't concerned with it. Down in McKinney, Texas, his routine doesn't change.

The Green Bay Packers wide receiver wakes up at 8 a.m. to eat breakfast, hops in his car, maybe gets about halfway through a Linkin Park or Nickelback song and arrives at the Michael Johnson Performance Center – a mere two-minute drive from his home. From 9 a.m. to noon Quinn trains relentlessly, sometimes in the brutal 95-degree Texas heat. He takes an hour off for lunch, and then from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., he'll study notes he jotted during Green Bay's OTA sessions.

Clock in. Clock out. Five days per week. Oh, and on weekends, Quinn mixes in some cardio and yoga for good measure.

Quinn knows he has no other option. Not this time. Not here. Not now.

If Green Bay's minicamp inside the Don Hutson Center was an effective movie trailer, the 2006 film Invincible will unravel at Clarke Hinkle Field during training camp. Quinn – the guy cut by the Buffalo Bills before training camp even started last summer – punctually runs his routes at full tilt, defense or no defense. Everything thrown his way is caught. No plays are taken off. No reason for coaches to scowl. So far, so good.

Clichés aside, Quinn is the receiver whose height is three inches too short, yet whose heart is three sizes too big. Last year's disappointment fueled this year's dedication at the MJPC. He's Invincible's Mark Wahlberg in a Packers uniform. Quinn takes his helmet off, and you still think Wahlberg is the one in that No. 17 uniform.

Really.

"I grew my hair out in college down to my nose and people said I looked just like Mark Wahlberg in Four Brothers," Quinn laughed.

The odds are stacked against Quinn. After getting released by Buffalo last year and bypassed by all other 31 teams, he worked out with Green Bay on Nov. 13 and was eventually signed on Jan. 27. Arguably no team in the NFL is deeper at wide receiver than Green Bay – bad news for an undrafted 6-foot-in-steel-toes wideout from North Texas.

But not so fast armchair GMs. Quinn is having a knockout offseason. The boxer-built, Wahlberg-clone, football/track dual athlete North Texas has carried a strong performance in OTAs and minicamps into the weight room – a backyard, state-of-the-art weight room. Through the six-week furlough between minicamp and training camp, Quinn has immersed himself within Michael Johnson's brainchild of a workout center.

"It makes me understand that I'm not leaving any stone unturned," Quinn said. "I'm really hitting it as far as physically and mentally."

One of a kind
The Michael Johnson Performance Center – which has trained more than 50 NFL players including LaDainian Tomlinson, Eli Manning, Roy Williams and Tony Romo – devises workout regiments focused on an athlete's specific position. The 13-month-old center accomplishes this with a series of field work, lateral/linear work, route-running, explosion exercises and plenty of time in the weight room.

One innovative drill that improves the peripheral vision of wide receivers is the Nike SST sport vision training lab. Quinn must catch passes with oversized sunglasses with shudders over his eyes. The shutters flicker at various speeds, which emphasizes reaction time and helps "slow the process down," Quinn said.

The half-blinding exercise is like playing basketball with a medicine ball instead of a basketball or adding weight to a baseball bat. The real deal becomes much, much easier.

"It really works on slowing everything down and letting your brain process different things," Quinn said. "Once you take the shudders off, it feels like the ball's coming in slower and you can see it better."

Under the guidance of Director of Performance Lance Walker, who served three seasons as the Dallas Cowboys' assistant strength and conditioning coach in the Bill Parcells regime, a slew of other NFL players have joined Quinn in the pre-camp grind: Dan Campbell (TE, Detroit), Michael Huff (S, Oakland), Mark Clayton (WR, Baltimore) and Arnaz Battle (WR, San Francisco). Also, Arkansas running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones prepared for the NFL Combine in McKinney and McFadden ran a 4.33 – the second-fastest time at the Combine.

Something's in the water down there. And for Quinn, it's an ideal primer for training camp.

"Everything is tailored to your position, your weight class and any deficiencies you may have, depending on whether you're a little beat up from minicamp or maybe what you need to strengthen," he said. "Everything is really individual-based."

The man himself – Michael Johnson – is "in and out," Quinn said. When Quinn and Company work on straight-line training outside, the five-time Olympic gold champion often puts his two cents in.

History indicates the final roster spots on a Ted Thompson/Mike McCarthy team usually boil down to versatility on special teams units. Johnson's expertise feeds this full-speed-ahead necessity.

"On special teams you're covering kicks, covering punts," Quinn said. "You need to get down there as fast as you can."

Sprinting isn't anything new to Quinn. Comes natural, now.

But it wasn't easy.

A ‘humbling' experience
This was the college experience?

During North Texas' football offseason, when Quinn's teammates went to the lake to relax, he was making four-hour bus rides to Norman, Okla. – knowing full well he was going to finish dead last.

Quinn walked onto the track team at North Texas and was a sprinter for four years. The two-sport experience helped him mentally, just as much as physically.

"It's a very humbling sport. I got my scholarship in football, not track," Quinn said. "That's for a reason. I walked onto the team and for the first two years, I was just getting blown out. Just beat bad. It's humbling.

"That's probably the best thing at North Texas that helped me out speed wise. I put on weight in the weight room and got bigger. No one really taught me how to run with that weight. We had a track coach up there that really helped me with my stride."

And that coach is still helping him chase NFL glory.

Carl Sheffield was the sprints and hurdles coach at North Texas when Quinn was in school. Now he's a full-time trainer at the Michael Johnson Performance Center, where he specializes in linear speed development – still there for Quinn.

"I believe track helped (Johnny) continue to get faster, training with people that were faster than he was," Sheffield said. "He began to run his routes a lot better because of his deceptiveness of how fast he actually was."

Still, even in the fall, opportunities to grab the limelight were rare for Quinn. The Mean Green was very run-oriented, featuring the nation's leading rusher twice during Quinn's four years. Subsequently, Quinn doesn't exactly replicate typical wide receiver rhetoric.

"I feel that from a blocking standpoint, I bring a different asset to the table to the receiver corps," he said. "Green Bay has some very talented running backs and if they're going to get the ball it's imperative that you block on the outside."

While that may be true, there's a very real possibility that Quinn also falls under the underutilized, waiting to erupt category. Quinn caught 34, 49, 47 and 57 passes in his four years, averaging 676 yards and five touchdowns per season. Consistently consistent, yes, He accepted the fabric North Texas' run-to-glory scheme.

But Sheffield sees more – especially now after seeing his spiked hunger this offseason.

"You always have those guys that come from small schools or really didn't do that much in college and get to the NFL and just explode. I think Johnny, given the opportunity, can be one of those guys because of his passion for his sport and how disciplined he is at being the best he can be."

Case in point: Johnny Quinn's senior season with the Mean Green.

Injury derails first crack at NFL, sparks the second
Quinn could practically see the fork in the road.

Halfway through his final hurrah, Quinn tore and dislocated a tendon in his left ankle. He sat out one game to let the swelling dissipate, and then he faced a decision. Play on a sinking team that eventually finished 3-9, or safely sit out and prepare for the pros?

Quinn took the hard road, and played five games with a torn tendon in his ankle. Before each game from then on, Quinn numbed his ankle with lidocaine and joined his teammates.

"We were struggling early on, and you just don't want to leave your buddies out there," Quinn said. "It just would hurt after the games after the lidocaine wore off. If I had to do it again, I'd do it again."

Unfortunately, the ankle injury came back to haunt him, and prevented his first NFL team from seeing the real Johnny Quinn. Well, actually, he never even got that chance.

One week after his senior season concluded, Quinn had surgery. Ankle rehabilitation usually takes a full six months, but Quinn tried to crunch his recovery into four months. At North Texas' Pro Day, the bum ankle rendered Quinn to straight-line drills – no route-running whatsoever. He was then invited to play in the North-South All-Star game, but obviously couldn't participate since he was still in an oversized boot.

Buffalo gave him a shot, but when Quinn tore his hamstring at the Bills' OTAs, Marv Levy's front office cut him. Quinn speculated that the quick ankle rehab rush probably contributed to the freak hamstring injury. Through four years of running track at North Texas, Quinn never tore his hamstring.

Until last summer, when he needed his health most.

"A lot of stuff came up that I had never experienced," Quinn said. "I think that's the reason I exited early out of Buffalo."

No other teams called, and Quinn returned to McKinney. Instead of playing in the NFL, he was a personal trainer for LA Fitness.

"Now that I look back at it, the time off this past year was probably the best thing for me," he said. "I was doing everything I could to get my ankle right and get everything going, but I probably needed more time to rehab it."

Quinn didn't relinquish his goal. From October to February, he scheduled clients in the evening so he could continue working out at the MJPC in the morning.

Time to think. Time to reflect. Time to prepare for Round Two.

"Getting released from a team is very humbling, especially when you didn't get a chance to put the pads on," Quinn said. "It added a lot more fuel to my fire. Every Sunday you turn on all the NFL games and you know you're capable of being there. You wish you were there. You just need that opportunity to be there."

Sheffield sees every day just how sincerely committed Quinn is to embracing his second life in the NFL. His main goal for Quinn has been to improve the receiver's hip flexibility. Beyond that, Sheffied is astonished at Quinn's round-the-clock motivation.


Johnny Quinn (81) caught 34, 49, 47 and 57 passes in his four years at North Texas, averaging 676 yards and five touchdowns per season.

"I only see him from 9 o'clock to 12 o'clock, three or four days per week," Sheffield said. "I asked him, ‘Are you being a bum the rest of the week?' And he said, ‘Coach, as soon as I leave here, I have lunch and study notes from 1 to 4 and there's a junior college kid here I throw balls with from 6 to 8.

"He's already preparing himself psychologically for the schedule he'll have as an NFL guy ... He told me how big the playbook is and that he is going to know it all by camp. He knows he only has a one-shot chance, and not knowing the playbook is not going to be a reason."

Competition will be stiff
The only writing that isn't on the wall at wide receiver for the Packers are the crossed T's and dotted I's.

Donald Driver, lock. Greg Jennings, lock. James Jones, lock. Jordy Nelson, lock. Fifteen of Ruvell Martin's 16 catches last year went for first downs and four for touchdowns. Chris Francies and Shaun Bodiford are veterans in the system. Seventh-round pick Brett Swain is in the mix as a receiver/returner option. Taj Smith the wheels (4.3 40). Jake Allen has the height (6-foot-4).

Call it cutthroat musical chairs. Seven players fighting for two spots.

Still, Quinn isn't playing the number's game.

"I'm a big believer that everything happens for a reason," he said. "The Good Lord put all of us receivers in Green Bay, Wisconsin for a reason. I can only control what I can do, and that's making sure I'm in the best physical and mental shape possible going into training camp. If I can do that, things will be OK.

"I'm just excited to have another opportunity. I felt that I didn't get an opportunity with Buffalo."

So the routine doesn't change. Wake up. Hit the weights. Hit the field. Hit the books. And in any free time, hit up some Halo on Xbox 360 (In 2004 Quinn placed 16th at Major League Gaming's National Halo Tournament).

Over and over and over and over again. Since getting that phone call from Green Bay in November, Quinn's lived by one motto: Do not leave any regrets on the table. Stay hungry. And when training camp comes, be ready.

Now, he is.

"I'm ready to roll," Quinn said. "Sitting out a year has really humbled me and made me appreciate everything and I'm just ready to get out there, throw on the pads and show everybody what I can do – my teammates, the coaching staff and the fans in Green Bay."


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