San Diego Chargers cornerback Dante Hughes (Crenshaw HS) grabs a hold of recently drafted St. Louis Rams wide receiver Austin Pettis. Hughes was showing the rookie the ropes, but Pettis more than held his own. Photo by Jason Lewis
Recently drafted Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young (University HS), snags a ball over Hughes in one-on-one drills. Photo by Jason Lewis Most NFL players used their time off during the lockout wisely by staying in shape. By Jason LewisSentinel Sports Editor
NFL players have been locked out from training facilities for several months, meaning that they were unable to take part in mini camps or offseason training programs with their coaches. But that did not stop a lot of players from getting themselves ready for the season. The dedicated players know that training camp is not designed to get them in shape for the season. They need to already be in shape when they get to camp. A small group of them, along with some college players and a high school player, used their summer days wisely earlier this week by training at West LA College with Jeff Johnson and JeRron Tatum of Johnson Elite Sports. The battles were fierce, and the speed and tenacity of the players were unbelievable as they battled through one-on-one drills.Among the group were cornerback Dante Hughes (Crenshaw HS) of the San Diego Chargers, recently drafted wide receivers Austin Pettis (Orange Lutheran HS) of the St. Louis Rams, and Titus Young (University HS) of the Detroit Lions, and college players Marvin Jones (Etiwanda HS in Fontana) from Cal, who is a preseason All Pac 12 wide receiver, and wide receiver Robert Herron (Dorsey HS) from the University of Wyoming. For Hughes, who was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 2007, this offseason has been different from what he is used to, but he welcomed the change. “It’s been harder, but it’s also been better,” Hughes said. “A lot of players, especially the vets, you get a chance to rest your body a little bit more. You can come back fresher, depending how your workout schedule was. I worked out pretty hard in the offseason. I feel like it benefited me mentally.”Hughes kept a similar workout schedule to what he has had with NFL teams, but he tailored it a bit more to his needs. While some NFL players used the time off to just hang out, Hughes used the time to make sure that he entered camp in great shape. “Some people are disciplined enough to get up and workout everyday, and you don’t have to worry about them,” Hughes said. “But some guys, you know, if they don’t have to workout, and they’re still going to get paid, they might not show up to every workout. So I think its just a personal thing.”For Pettis and Young, they will enter their first NFL training camp without the benefit of mini camps with their teams, but neither feels that it will be a big issue. “I don’t think that it will affect me too much,” Pettis said. “I’m out here trying to stay in shape and get as much work in as possible to get prepared physically to go out there and play.”Pettis said that he did a lot more work this offseason to prepare for the NFL Combine and different bowl games than he did while in college. He said that he worked even harder to prepare himself for the NFL so he can hit the ground running when he gets to training camp with the Rams. “I know that our learning curve has to be sped up a lot more,” Pettis said. “We’re kind of at a disadvantage, but you can’t really make too many excuses because everybody is in the same boat.”Young appeared to be in a calm state of mind after his workout, and he is planning on attacking the NFL in the same fashion as he did high school and college football.
“My expectations are the same as they have been since I was in high school,” Young said. “That is to dominate. It’s nothing different, just a different environment, a different team, and a different fan base. But my approach is going to be the same.”All the players, from the pros to the college players to the one high schooler, they are all working towards the same goal, which is get as much work in as possible heading into training camps, and feeding off each other brought out a competitive spirit in all of them.“It’s going to help them tremendously because of the talent level that’s out here,” Johnson said. “Some of these guys are already in the NFL, some of them are college seniors and juniors, but they’re all athletic. So when we compete, which we do every practice, whether we’re doing one-on-ones or running the hills, they all compete against each other. And that’s what camp is all about. They’re missing OTAs and camps, but they’re really not because they’re getting it here. Because of the competition and the work level.”Johnson and Tatum made sure that they cover all bases with their training for these athletes. “Its just attention to details,” Tatum said. “A lot of our older guys have been out here for a while, so they already have it built into muscle memory. Actually, this whole football thing is a universal language. So we try to get the young guys to pay attention to details just like the professional guys. We try to mesh it together so that they’re on the same page. So the younger guys can learn from the older guys.”Tatum believes that the group on hand really fed off of each other and were able to coach each other up because many of them were peers. “We are visual learners, so being able to watch a professional guy, or being able to be coached up by Jeff or I, or being able to be coached up by the professional guys, I think it’s defiantly beneficial,” Tatum said. “Also, the college guys are peers, so they are able to coach each other.”Young, who was coached by Tatum at University HS, has worked with Johnson and Tatum throughout his college career at Boise St.“They’ve made a big difference,” Young said. “We know that the game is 90% mental and only 10% physical. We get a lot of on the field work and mentoring the mind to get the mind right for different situations and different problems that will occur in football. And just the overall aspect of the game and a respect of the game. I feel like they do a great job explaining the importance of the way you handle football and the way you go about preparing for football.”Hughes was the most experienced player, but he was able to get a lot out of working with younger players. “They have a lot of young guys that have a whole lot of talent,” Hughes said. “I’m out here getting better learning from them because they’re going to be the ones in the next two-to-three years who are in the league tearing everybody up.”Hughes went on to say that he felt that if the younger players kept working as hard as they did in the training session, they’d all be playing in the NFL pretty soon.
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