With the NFL talks heading into the most crucial week of the lockout, Bengals head strength coach Chip Morton is planning like a collective bargaining agreement is going to get done by the magic July 15 deadline.
He has to, of course, in order to make sure that the weight room at Georgetown College is set up if the Bengals do indeed report for training camp July 27. The school's deadline is July 15 on yeah or nay, or else the Bengals stay home for camp, and that seems to be the league's drop-dead date for a full preseason.
So Morton makes his annual scouting trip to central Kentucky next week in a summer where concussion topics have become almost as high-profile as labor issues.
After this past weekend's strength summit in Cincinnati sounded the alarm about brain injuries in football, Morton thinks a lot more weight rooms around the NFL, college and high school are going to be set up like his and emphasize strengthening the head and neck.
"We've always done it and we're going to reemphasize it," Morton said. "We're at the point now where we're going to be asked if we're doing enough in that area and we have to make sure we can do all that can be done."
Kim Wood, Morton's predecessor at the Bengals, vowed to reconvene "The Legends Clinic" on an annual basis after what he called his "Meeting of the Tribes" at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center broke Saturday evening. The weekend was more than a feel-good jukebox play of nostalgia as a cadre of football strength pioneers such as Dan Riley and Mike Gittleson joined Wood, the NFL's first full-time strength coach, to discuss a crisis they believe is much more dangerous than the lockout.
With researchers looking at the link between Lou Gehrig's disease and the hits an NFL player takes to the head, as well as early dementia and death, the old masters fear for the game. Their research showing the bigger and tougher the neck, the more cushion the brain has to absorb hits and cut down on damage, they are trying to pass on the knowledge even though they are out of football.
"But we can still talk," Wood told the flock. "You've got to stand up now and do what's not politically correct. Not what's in the mainstream. You have to stand up and that's hard to do. But what other choice do you have?"
Wood warned that governing bodies handing out coaching and training certificates have no questions about the neck on their exams. Gittleson, the former long-time University of Michigan strength guru, has immersed himself for the past three years in the musculature of the neck and head and he's discovering parts strength coaches never knew existed, never mind trained.
"If the old guys used to doing the neck are gone, the young guys have to be taught what to do and now it’s the head and neck," Gittleson said. "Us old guys are all neck guys. Now it's head and neck."
Morton, a product of Riley's Penn State program that helped put manual resistance into the mainstream, also studied with Wood in the mid-1980s in a program in which working with the neck in machines was a staple. While the neck has always had prominence in Morton's programs, it will get more.
He already has decided to add one-armed shrug reps to two-armed shrugs and he's looking into expanding the manual resistance phase at training camp because of space reasons. Oliver calls manual resistance "a poor man's neck machine. We know a lot of high schools can't afford machines, but there's no excuse not to train the neck."
"I first saw that from Dan Riley at the Redskins training camp 25 years ago," Morton said of manual resistance. "And I used it on the field with our players at Franklin High School in Columbus, Ohio. Like everything, you're always looking at ways to expand and improve. It's not only something that's important in our game, but it's very important for youth coaches."
While Wood, Gittleson and Riley are spreading the word in what Oliver called a five-star clinic that should have charged $5,000 instead of $25, Morton is doing his share. After reading about Morton's renewed emphasis of the neck in response to concussions last month on Bengals.com, one school staff got in touch with him to set up a mini-clinic.
"Less than a bench press program," said Gittleson, when asked how long a neck program would take. "Less than a squat program. Maybe 15 minutes. Maybe 12. Maybe 10. And if that's not enough, it has to go longer."
Gittleson wanted the coaches to walk out of Cincinnati with a core of elements to train: The head 10 degrees forward and 25 degrees back while training the neck in all four directions along with the upper, middle and lower trapezoid muscles.
Oliver, Morton's former assistant with the Bengals, kept shaking his head over Gittleson's research on the ram and woodpecker, animals that have the same kind of skull capacity as humans.
"But they're built for collisions, we're not," Oliver said. "You look around and 99 percent of the NFL, college and high school teams are doing nothing to train the neck. Chip and I were lucky. We were right there when Kim Wood was teaching the neck. What's important in my weight room is what I think is important and the neck is important. The weight room is a safety belt."
After this past weekend, Oliver says he'll re-educate UK's strength and football coaches on the importance of the neck and the role it plays with the head.
"It's a tough thing when the worst thing that can happen to you in a sport can kill you," Oliver said. "Not a broken knee ligament. Not a torn-up shoulder. But a head injury. Coaches have to be made aware and we have to prepare our players for it."
Morton says the neck will continue to be about a quarter of his program, but after consulting with Gittleson earlier this spring he plans to talk with him more in an effort to look at tweaking exercises he already has.
"The fact that these guys feel they have to speak up shows you how important it is," Morton said.