The Vikings' offseason conditioning program doesn't start for another five weeks, but two Vikings are starting up conditioning of a different sort this week.
Defensive end Ray Edwards and free-agent cornerback Ronyell Whitaker will be immersing themselves in a boxing conditioning program for the next three to four weeks. For Whitaker it is nothing new. He is the nephew of boxing legend Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker and has been using boxing to condition for football for years.
As for Edwards, well, Whitaker has been warning him.
"I told Ray he better be ready. It's not no easy workout," Whitaker said. "There is always a lot of throwing up and a lot of sore bodies. You look at the clock and you're like, Damn, in seven or eight more hours I've got to get back up and do this all over again."
Whitaker has used the workouts to keep the timing of his feet and his hands together and believes even his work with the speed bag helps his skills as a cornerback. Edwards won't be doing the exact same workout as Whitaker, the lighter one said.
"I'm going to try to teach Ray how to hit the speed bag. It's easy to a point – well, I can say it's easy because I boxed – but Ray being a bigger guy, it may be a little more difficult for him. At the same time, it will help him with his hand placement and how quickly he can shoot his hands off on an offensive lineman, so that will help him as well," Whitaker said. "Ray is going to work out on the heavier bag too because he's a bigger guy. I don't work too much with the big bag; I just work with the speed bag to make sure my hands match my feet as far as my speed is concerned. Then there is a (lot) of ab work and then we're going to jump rope a little bit.
"And then Ray might get in there and go a couple of rounds with those guys in the gym. That's all just sparring. There is no big-time punches or anything like that – it's all eye-hand coordination and that's it. And then you get into eating right. When my uncle works out with us, he doesn't just want what you do in the gym; he wants to make sure you eat right and get the proper amount of sleep and all that. That's about it."
Edwards, who finished the season tied for the Vikings' lead in quarterback sacks with 5.0 despite missing the final four games, was suspended by the NFL for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. At the end of the season, he said he wasn't at liberty to discuss what it was he took, but he said he should have gotten the workout supplement approved before he took it.
While he was suspended, he watched the games from his home and he spent time freshening up his boxing skills at a martial arts center in the Twin Cities. While it's easy to see the bloodlines in Whitaker's boxing past, what interested Edwards in boxing? He boxed a little bit growing up and has always had an interest in the sport, according to Whitaker, who said Edwards is always talking with him about the next big fight, which they often watch together. Edwards' personal immersion back into the sport began during his suspension.
"I went to work with a boxing trainer to work on my hands and feet, and hand-eye coordination and things like that, so I definitely feel like that is going to help me out more next year," Edwards said after the season.
This week, however, he will start a more extensive conditioning program that Whitaker has been going through ever since he started playing professionally.
"You first start out with a lot of road work. As a boxer, you don't ever want to get on the treadmill because you kind of get used to that. With a treadmill you get on and you get back off and you're in the same place. You want to have the mindset that if you run four miles somewhere, you have to turn around and run back. That's the whole thing. In boxing, it's all a mindset thing. How far can you really push yourself. Also, it will get you in great condition," Whitaker said.
The cornerback credited his boxing conditioning as being the only way he could survive playing football year-round while trying to stay in the league. For several years, he would finished an NFL season, take a little time off, then hop right into NFL Europe League training camps, then go overseas to play in the league, play that entire spring/early summer season, fly back to the United States and start right up with two-a-day practices leading into the NFL regular season.
"If I didn't do that workout, there is no way I would have made it, no way my body would have kept up with it," Whitaker said. "I would have been done. I would have been drained."
So this week, the defensive pair will begin their workouts at a boxing facility in New Hope, a Twin Cities suburb, and then take their training show on the road to Virginia, where "Sweet Pea" runs a boxing gym (Whitaker's brother mailed him a boxing workout on a DVD that he anxious to experience). For the next three to four weeks, Whitaker and Edwards will work on their bodies and the stamina.
"Three weeks is more than enough. It's not like we're preparing to get in a championship fight or anything. It's all about conditioning," Whitaker said. "When conditioning time rolls back around in March, you've got to go back in. You'll be so far ahead of everybody else, it will be ridiculous."
The workouts last about 3 ½ hours, Whitaker said, adding that "nothing is rushed. … In boxing, everything has to be paced. It's almost the same as if you fight 12 rounds, you've got to pace it. You don't go in and throw 300 punches a round. You've got to make sure everything is paced and works to the way your body feels."
Edwards was hoping the additional work wouldn't just translate into better physical condition but would also help him with his hands skills as a defensive lineman.
"Just working on close-quarters combat and it definitely helps me with the footwork and hand-eye coordination of guys – the offensive linemen are trying to punch you when you rush them, so it definitely will be able to help you move from side to side and not let them get their hands on you," Edwards said.
The Vikings can only hope that translates into their first double-digit sacker since Lance Johnstone and Kevin Williams each did it in 2004.
Vikings' Boxing Training Starts This Week
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