Time and again last season, when the Green Bay Packers needed to make a play to either seize a victory or hold onto one, they fell short. Whether it was offense, defense or special teams, the Packers finished 6-10 in large part because of their late-game failings.
If it happens again, it won't be because new strength and conditioning coach Dave Redding didn't have the players prepared.
While the Packers won't be put through the fourth-quarter cauldron for another five months, Redding is putting the players through the weight-room equivalent of the fourth quarter every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
"Fatigue makes cowards of everybody," Redding told a small group of reporters who were given a tour of the Packers' weight room on Wednesday. "What I want them to be able to do when I train them, I call it a ‘gut-check.' Every day, there's a part of this program where I'm going to take them to that moment. Some guys can kick that wall down. Some guys, you have to help them through that wall and show them how to do it. Some guys know how to do that and how to go beyond that point when they train."
Asked if these high-impact workouts are making many friends in the weight room, the mild-mannered Redding smiled.
"Not at first. But after a game, they thank me," said Redding, a 23-year veteran of NFL weight rooms and a member of the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame. "Right now, they don't thank me."
Make no mistake, though. Redding's new twists on conditioning are being well-received by the players since offseason workouts began on March 16.
One popular change is the workouts are less regimented. Rather than telling the players to do a specific lift, Redding has five or six options listed that accomplish the same goal.
"This gives them ownership in that they design to do their own thing," Redding said. "Ownership is important. If you give me ownership in something, I'm going to work harder at it. We've given our players an opportunity to have ownership."
Another popular change is that the players are getting more accomplished in less time. From start to shower, the players are done with their workouts in 2 hours. One time-saving change was suggested by Redding's assistant, holdover Mark Lovat. Rather than the players toting a notecard and pencil from workout to workout and writing down the results of each lift, the workout is posted on a projector on the wall. And forget about writing it down.
"Players have hands-free, which gives us time to get more work done faster," Redding said. "Sometimes, you walk around recording with a card, you have to stop and pause and write, and stop and pause and write. We don't stop and pause. We keep moving. So, in between sets of everything we do, they're doing more activity."
The madness to Redding's method is all about keeping players healthy and fresh. Redding isn't as interested in maximum lifts as he is in building functional strength, endurance and the ability to avoid injuries. That's the main reason behind Redding's go-go-go approach.
"Between sets of everything, these guys are moving," he said. "We're getting a lot of volume done in a very short period of time. My progression is about increasing their work capacity as opposed to always increasing their loads."
And don't even think about sitting down for a breather.
"We have a no sit-down rule," Redding said. "If you get caught sitting down, you're doing sit-ups. If you argue, it's 10 more. It's called ‘give me 20.'"
While Redding joked that he carries a big rabbit's foot in each pocket for good luck, the goal is to avoid the high number of nagging injuries that plagued the team last season. Players who are in shape mentally and physically have a better chance of surviving the 20-game grind.
"If these guys are in shape to play the game of football, there's a chance they'll be able to get through these nagging little things," Redding said. "At the end of the second quarter and the end of the fourth quarter when fatigue sets in and somebody gets to you, because you're fatigued, you get rolled up on because you're too tired to move out of the way. When you're not fatigued, those things have less of a chance of happening. Most of your injuries occur late in the second and fourth quarters. That's when they're tired."
These days, Redding's players are gassed four days a week. It's all in hopes of making the Packers a fourth-quarter powerhouse instead of fourth-quarter weaklings. Only time will tell whether Redding's philosophical changes will lead to fourth-quarter improvement. But his emphasis is well-placed on a team that fell short again and again in key situations.
"‘Can I go another step? Can I keep this pace?' That's what I'm after," Redding said. "It doesn't have to come from me all the time. It should come from them. Those that invest the most are the last to surrender. I'm not interested in numbers. I want them to be the same guy on the first play of the first game and be that same guy on the last play of the last game."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport