The last two months are usually the height of activity for the Bengals weight room. Now a deserted symbol of the NFL lockout stretching into its third month, strength coaches Chip Morton and Jeff Friday went so far to adopt the Reds for a day a few weeks back to fill the teacher's innate need for a full classroom.
"We miss it. We miss being around them day-to-day, the interaction and the bonding," Morton said this week, tweaking his schedule yet again. "It was good to be around athletes again. To watch them engage with their coaches and go through all phases of preparation. Even in the offseason, it's pretty dynamic around here with a daily excitement of progress and what's next, and I miss that every day."
They may be doing more than borrowing an atmosphere. After this latest Great American Ball Park Summit to watch the Reds get ready to play the Astros in a Business Day Special, Morton and Friday may very well be adopting Matt Krause's mantra of "Every Day is Game Day."
The grind hadn't allowed Morton to commiserate with his opposite number at the Reds on site for three years. He's got a sixth sense with Krause, the club's major league strength and conditioning coordinator, and after every meeting he always emerges thinking, "We've got to sit down more with that guy." Now blindfolded with the task of getting an NFL team ready for a season without knowing a schedule or the baseline conditioning of his players, Morton and Friday sound open to adopting some aspects of the baseball philosophy.
"Our program keeps getting adjusted every time the date changes and that's fine. We'll adjust. That's the challenge of it," Morton said. "That's what baseball does. Matt says, 'Every day is game day.' They adjust daily. That's kind of the mindset. Tweaking. How to adjust. Who to back off and when. We're going to have to immediately and daily adjust to what our priorities are and match it up with our recovery and nutrition."
Friday says their schedule has been changing "like an amoeba" every time new dates emerge. Now it is a June 3 hearing and June 7 mediation. Before that, it was more like standby. On the one day the lockout was lifted last month during the draft on a Friday, the weight room was open with plans for physicals on Monday and the start of workouts Tuesday.
But the curtain came back down later that Friday. Now after missing seven weeks of their most basic weight room work, Morton and Friday have to walk the fine line of taking out elements of the program while keeping players healthy for a season.
"There were a couple of times where we were all set to get started and had everything ready to go for the players and we had to stand down," Morton said. "It stands to reason … we can't do everything. I've already taken some things out. We're not going to have time for them. We have to go through the same steps, but condensed."
Morton spends every offseason surfing the Internet and meeting with other strength coaches to update and refresh his own program, it's just this offseason he's had more time to do it. He just imported some coaches from the state of Michigan for what he calls an in-service day and Ray Oliver, the head of the University of Kentucky strength program, brought up his staff last week to compare notes while visiting the room where he assisted Morton for six seasons.
"Concussions are getting a lot of attention now and Ray and I are from the family tree where the strength of the neck is considered a key thing in cushioning blows to the head," Morton said. "We're going to be looking at that this year and since Kentucky has players in their room going through it, we're checking with them to see what they found."
But the visit to GABP may have been the most eye-opening. Morton and Friday watched the players start straggling into the locker room after a night game at about 9 a.m., a good three and half hours before the game, and saw Krause's staff them ease into first-pitch mode with a steady progression of breakfast, stretching, film study and batting practice.
"I like the way he structures his workouts and preparation, pregame and postgame recovery, and some of the exercises they use," Morton said. "(Krause) communicates well with players, he's savvy. They don't have contact injuries like we do, but they still have to get guys recovered so they're prepared to play each day."
The training needs are obviously different. Muscle mass isn't as important in some positions in baseball as it is for every position in football and Morton notes they don't do as much bench pressing or over-the-head lifting because of "the integrity of the shoulder joint, and they have a lot more isolated shoulder exercises."
But both Morton and Krause have pieces of equipment they acquired after one of their meetings. The Reds adopted the Bengals' "Swiss Swing," and Morton already has a "Monster Bar" sitting in his office after quickly ordering it from a Kentucky company following the recent GABP Summit.
"We'll be using that this year for forearm and wrist strength," Morton said of the Monster. "It's a bent bar you put weights on where you can have wrist extensions."
Krause's relievers, among others, can be found with the Swiss Swing.
"It's a recovery tool, kind of like a massage piece," Krause said. "They can put it on their calves, anywhere on their legs. Our relievers put their rotator cuffs on it and stretch on their own, a loosening-up sort of thing."
Krause has also picked Morton's brain on nutrition and how it fits into pregame meals, which Krause always seems to be doing while Morton gets the chance to "build to a crescendo on Sunday."
"Chip's always looking for something new," Krause said. "We're all trying to stay ahead of it. I like to go around town and visit the Bengals, Xavier, UC and see what everybody is doing. We've both spoken at some of the same conferences."
At the recent GABP Summit, Morton and Friday took notes on how Krause adjusted to players and situations.
"He's got some pitchers that like to run the day after a start, some don't," Morton said. "Some like to get a lift in. Some like to work the upper body after a start. Others like to work the legs. Each pitcher has their own routine they like to do. When we were over there, (starting pitcher) Bronson Arroyo was going through his cycle."
Morton and Friday realize they may be juggling daily balls now, too. The money question is what is the least amount of time teams are going to need to get guys ready to play a game that counts.
"The magic number? It would have to be somewhere between three to four weeks," Morton said. "I was told a long time ago that you can't rush physiology. It's going to be on our entire coaching staff. Every coaching staff in the league is going to have to be as efficient and effective as possible. We're going to have to dole out the workload appropriately so as not to get people hurt. Football comes first and while they work in football we're going to be trying to bring up the general conditioning. You're serving two masters."
As Friday outlined, that isn't the norm because teams generally use the end of March to early May to prepare players for the football workouts in May and June.
"There are different phases," Friday said. "After getting ready for the OTA phase, now you get them ready for that first week of training camp. Hitting and cutting and the recovery on that, and then heading into the preseason games, or 'game shape.' "
Now, Morton says, "We're going to be putting it all into one cauldron." But he winces when he hears "crash course." Remember, "You can't rush physiology." At the moment, Morton is looking at the best-case scenario of June OTAs.
"But if you get them in the room on a Monday, you have to realize they're going to be doing football on Tuesday and Wednesday," Morton said. "Before, you pretty much knew the conditioning baseline of 90 percent of your players. We always evaluate them (in March) when they get here. Now, at this point each one will be different and that's where you'll get into tweaking and adjusting guys."
Welcome to Krause's world, where he has to be inside manager Dusty Baker's head every day. Morton is also tethered to head coach Marvin Lewis, but Baker fills out a lineup card every day, not a weekly inactive sheet.
"You have to understand how Dusty uses guys in games," Krause said. "What their role is and build the program around the role they play. The good thing for those guys is they have more time in the offseason than we do."
Those were the good old days. Morton figures those days will be here again. He'd just like to know when.
For the ever-present schedule that is now starting to look like a frenzied baseball slate.
"That's the way it may be," he said. "Every day is game day."