Upping the ante

7-16-04, 6:50 p.m.


The symbol of last year's immense turnaround in Bengaldom came in the changes head coach Marvin Lewis instituted in the weight room under the leadership of strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton.

On the verge of his second Bengals training camp, Morton, 41, has seen more players and seen them in better shape during an even more intense off-season session than those early, heady days of 2003. With more lifting opportunities at camp and a roster literally stretched out now more than ever, Morton sat down this week with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com confident this team can make a stretch run after "upping the ante," to his players this past spring.

GH :Is this team in better shape than last year after the completion of off-season workouts?

CM:I look at the treadmill tests, the body fat and body weights and we're a little bit ahead of last year after the June camp. The part that I'm concerned about now is the four or five weeks in between when they leave town and finish with us before camp. Hopefully, over the course of time and the way Marvin emphasizes it, they'll work harder in preparation. We had a lot of 100-percenters (for attendance). Even more than last year. There's also been an increase from last year of players who were here at least 80 percent of the time.

GH:** Any red flags go up for you as the strength and conditioning guy when you went 1-3 in December?

CM: Of course you ask yourself, Were we tired? Had we done too much? Not done enough? I think part of it was that while this team had always played 16 games, to have it really count. . . .When it counts in December that's another added factor that's going to influence how you perform. Now we've been there, we've had our feet to the fire, so to speak.


GH:** Was it more a mental thing playing all those so-called big games over the last two months?

CM: Emotionally that is going to take its toll. The emotions of that. Now they key is whatever it was last year, now we've been through that, that's one less excuse. So next year hopefully you won't be asking that question.

From our standpoint, we hit on things pretty well. If you look at body fat throughout the year, it didn't rise appreciably the last month. We measured body fat at training camp, middle of the season, end of the season, and didn't see an increase. That indicates we were hanging in there physically. **

GH:** What is the best thing you've seen this offseason?

CM: We challenged them. We raised the bar from last year. We upped the ante a little bit. The running workouts were more difficult. There was greater volume of our outside running. If it was three 200s and three 300s last year, it was four or five this year. We kept them out little bit longer. We added yoga We added the flex band stretching. We really got into our post-stretching running this year. Everyone was doing flexibility every day and sometimes twice a day. **

GH:How is training camp going to be different than last year?

CM:*As the schedule looks now, we go into it with an increased number of opportunities to lift weights. Last year, we had a really favorable schedule. This year, most weeks there is a dedicated time where they'll just have lifting time as a group. Offense. Defense. Not coming in after the two-hour practices. This year it seems as though there are specific times just for lifting. With the leg work, we'll do more of that after that longer second practice. *

GH:**After you started 0-3 last year, were there changes to this training camp schedule?

CM: The way Marvin allotted it this year after some revisions, and got the final product, it's perfect. I wouldn't change the way it is mapped out. Even more favorable than last year. From my end, we're going to get more work. **

GH:Did you come out of the last training camp with mental notes on doing things a little differently at Georgetown?

CM:We challenge the players with leg lifting during camp. It was only once a week. They didn't have a problem with it. I want to maintain that. I really believe in maintaining a certain amount of leg strength. We're not hitting their legs hard in the weight room during training camp, but I think it's important to maintain some basic strength in the lower body. But to place those workouts judiciously so they have enough recovery time once the pre-season games start and they have enough recovery time before the next practice. We'll go earlier in the week and only do legs after the second, longer practice. I'm sticking to my guns on that as part of our mission statement.

GH:** Do you have a Top Five for workouts?

CM: We've got a good, serious group. I have fun with them. We really don't have a problem guy. In my NFL career (13 seasons, five teams), there have been a few guys, for whatever reason, didn't want to do the program. But these guys are a good group.

Not to single him out, but you get a guy like Nate Webster who is a free agent and he comes in here and he's always the first guy here since the offseason workouts began and he's got an aggressive attitude toward training. You add Kim Herring, who is a professional the way he gets ready for the game. Not to single them out, but John Thornton, Brian Simmons, Kevin Hardy, you put some guys from last year that know how to work and know what it takes, and that just builds up the program.

The way Marvin structured it this year helped the offseason immensely. The first eight weeks were uninterrupted training. Then after eight weeks we had coaching sessions and minicamps, so there was uninterrupted football, and I know that had to be good for football like it was for us. Last year it was broken up a couple of times with an extra camp because of a new staff. Everyone is in town for the coaching sessions and minicamps and you also do some training here during that time. So they get used to the speed and intensity and they get a good idea of how training camp and the season are going to be structured. **

GH:What did you guys emphasize differently this year compared to last year?

CM:Some of the ideas that Marvin had obviously became our areas of importance. Abdominal. Lower back strength. That nebulous term "core strength." You always have to develop that strength in the center of the body. It's going to prevent injury and it's going to improve performance. If you're stronger through the power zone, from your knees to the chest, everything is going to be that much better.

GH:** Marvin is a big knee guy, isn't he?

CM: Knee benders. Stay low. The ability to stay low and have endurance. It's critical. We raised the bar in the area of flexibility. We added different kinds of stretching. We made sure everyone in the off-season program had a flex band and we used that as opposed to partner stretching. It's a technology that is becoming popular. The individual can control how much tension. You can control it yourself instead of being only as good as your partner.

GH: I guess the weekly yoga classes were a part of that.

CM: I had a couple of instructors contact me. I had always thought abut doing it, but it can be a tough sell. It has to be the right instructor (Jen Damaska) and it has to have the right support from Marvin, which it did. The group has got to be open to really applying themselves to make it be a viable activity and it worked very, very well. **

GH:** You've got an interesting story about the treadmill test you have developed here.

CM: We use it as a standard measure of fitness. It doesn't change year by year. It's by position and body weight in the position and we do it pretty much at the end of the off-season workouts. Actually, that data came from (head coach) Joe Gibbs' first time in Washington with his strength coach Dan Riley. Back then, they ran a maximum test until guys basically jumped off or fell off. Things have changed, but they recorded the ability to get maximum effort based on how far they got, how many stages and grades and speeds they got, you could calculate their fitness level based on that and come up with some norms by position after a number of years. It's interesting to go back and look at the names like Art Monk and see what they were doing. The bench marks have modified slightly because it was a test done on football players 20 years ago when they were generally lighter. So there are some differences, but it's a good measurement.

GH: How do your guys stack up?

CM: It's a 12-minute run and the guys who you think are going be fast are. The receivers and DBs are the fastest at about 1.74 miles and it goes down from there. I was really impressed with our offensive line. They are a relatively fit bunch. For them, it was a little over a 1.4 miles, but the thing is the heart rates are relatively low and that's how you judge fitness. **

GH:** Anybody fail?

CM: We had a couple of guys last year, but everybody who has taken it this year has passed.

GH:** What is the biggest difference from this year and last year?

CM: Their attitude toward work. Last year, they were eager to be in the program, to be led and taught, to be coached. Brian Simmons said, "Now we understand what the expectation level is, what the expectations were." They were learning to work and get into a program, and having an organized, timely structure in a lot of phases. Now they've picked up where they've left off and gone about their business.

We're more organized. We're doing a better job of recording numbers, recording workouts, and thereby allowing us to show better progression in the workouts, pumping the weights up workout to workout. The players knew the system. Last year we had to teach the system. So recording information wasn't always done on our part as well as we would have liked. But we knew that. Now we understand the system. Now you can refine it and dig deeper.

You've got a guy like Carl Powell, who went out and bought a treadmill for himself. It's great to see things like that. Here is a guy who has been around and is investing in himself, and it shows you how excited he is about the season. **

GH:**I hear Mike Brown has a good eye for weights. I guess he thinks running back Rudi Johnson is best at 218 pounds.

CM: Mike has been around players, he has an interest and he certainly keeps track of it. Coach (Paul) Brown emphasized it a lot. Rudi was always around 220 or so pretty consistently last year. **

GH:** How much did he weigh when he broke the team record with 43 carries against Houston last year on Nov. 9?

CM: On Nov. 7, he was 217. Sometimes players don't agree, but the numbers always seem to bear it out.

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