In the Redskins' Up-Downs, There Is No Middle Ground

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 25, 2006

The warnings came from everywhere.

Defensive back Mike Rumph had just arrived at Redskins Park for the first time, weary from a cross-country flight from San Francisco after his trade to Washington, and all anyone wanted to talk about was up-downs, an old-school conditioning drill that he thought had been long retired from the NFL.

Running back Clinton Portis, a teammate from the University of Miami, was the first to mention it. "You know you got 40 up-downs," Portis said. "When you gonna do 'em?"

By the time the entire defense gathered for an early meeting, at least four other players had mentioned the grueling exercise. And when Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense, began his address to the team by reading out the names of players who had to complete up-downs that day, Rumph, a four-year veteran, knew this was no joke. It was, in fact, his first initiation to the Redskins' hard-nosed defense.

Going through the hellish up-down drill in full pads -- having to sprint in place, drop to the ground on his chest whenever told, begin doing pushups, leap back to his feet, run in place again, and repeat it all at least 40 times, or until Williams has seen enough -- was mandatory.

"Being a new player, I didn't want to clunk out on them," said Rumph, who passed the test on Tuesday. "I didn't want my new teammates to see me as being soft, so I kind of went to coach early and said, 'Can you let me get mine out of the way now?' Because I was tired of the anticipation. Everybody kept telling me, 'Here they come, here come your up-downs.' So I wanted to get mine out of way, and I went out and did them."

Up-downs -- a weekly part of Williams's practices -- have become a badge of honor to the Redskins' defensive players, and a reflection of how tough they are expected to play each game. They are symbolic of a collective defensive psyche, a rite of passage and a method of bonding. Around the league, "grass drills" such as up-downs might be viewed as an antiquated high school tactic; for the defense at Redskins Park, they are a way of life. They are not part of the Washington offense's regular practice regimen.

"That is our conditioning test," Williams said. "And what it lets them know is, when you're on the ground, you'd better not be on the ground very long as a Redskin defender, because you're not going to be around here. The fairness is that no matter what time of the year, when a new guy gets signed with us, he's got to do those before they can take the field with the rest of these guys who've done it all spring and training camp. Really, it's not a punishment, it's just what we're about."

This week, however, the drill seemed to have a disciplinarian bent. Williams admonished his players for their penalty-filled performance in a 27-14 loss to the New York Jets last Saturday night, and on Monday he put them through a demanding set of "swim drills," which amounted to up-downs except with the players running forward and not in place. There were "suicide" sprints as well, and Williams called out the names of players who committed penalties and mistakes in the game, letting their teammates know that the next set of conditioning drills was because of their sloppy play.

To the nucleus of the defense, the harsh treatment came as no surprise.

"It's a proven philosophy -- hard work pays off," said nine-year veteran lineman Renaldo Wynn, the dean of the Washington defense. "Every guy on this defense believes that. Sometimes we need a whupping like Gregg put on us this week, and it'll definitely have a ripple effect on some guys. We want to make sure we get a win this weekend at all costs."

Watching new teammates suffer a little always provides good post-practice fodder for those already indoctrinated. Soon, the newcomers feel like part of the group as well.

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