By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Joe Bugel, the Redskins' offensive line coach, was in his office Monday morning when the team's melting glacier of a tackle appeared in the doorway. Mike Williams had weighed about 450 pounds at the start of this year. When the Redskins signed Williams to a free agent contract in April, he dented the scale at 410. Just three months later, on the eve of training camp, Williams said he weighs 342 pounds.
"I almost fell on the floor when I saw him," Bugel said.
When players report to camp Thursday morning, Williams will be among a crew of shrunken linemen, their lean muscle mass replacing fatty tissue. Though not exactly ready for a Weight Watchers advertising campaign, four of the Redskins' offensive linemen worked out together in Arizona in a unique and demanding training program and will report to camp this week significantly trimmed down.
In addition to Williams' dramatic weight loss, Chris Samuels weighed 333 pounds a few months ago. He's down to 305. Stephon Heyer was walking around more than 335 pounds, and he's down to 326. Derrick Dockery was around 327 pounds, and he'll start camp at 316.
"To see what these guys did during the offseason, it shows you how committed they are," Bugel said.
Committed -- or crazy. The offseason conditioning program was designed by Ian Danney of Performance Enhancement Professionals in Scottsdale, Ariz. Though each player's routine was tailored specifically for his needs, the program consisted of a strict nutrition plan, traditional weight training, field work and cardiovascular exercises and what Samuels described as "old school stuff."
Danney, a former Olympic bobsledder from Canada, had the players swinging sledgehammers, flipping giant tires and pushing his sport-utility vehicle. And all of this was done in a scorching desert heat, which often rose above 115 degrees.
"It was like you're working out in a sauna," Dockery said. "It's probably the best situation you could put yourself in."
Motivated by a disappointing conclusion to the 2008 season, the offensive linemen said they committed themselves to a better 2009 campaign. Samuels missed the final three games of last season with a triceps tear and underwent offseason surgery.
Bugel remembers talking to the six-time Pro Bowl pick when the season ended. "He said, 'Buges, I'm going to come back and have my best year,' " Bugel said. "And when Chris Samuels tells you something, he's going to back it up. He got himself in tremendous shape."
Samuels said even though he'll be lighter this season, he feels stronger and quicker than the past several years.
Samuels turned 32 years old on Tuesday. As he has gotten older, maintaining his weight and strength has become more difficult. While the other linemen spent five to seven weeks in Arizona, Samuels spent almost his entire offseason there, arriving in February and not leaving until early this month.
In addition to daily workouts, Samuels was on a strict diet that kept him far away from fried food and carbohydrates.
"The big thing was I stopped drinking all the alcohol," Samuels said. "I was drinking a good amount of beer; not so much the liquor. So cutting that out was a big help."
Nutrition was important to Williams's radical change, too, though he doesn't use the word "diet."
"I'd dieted in the past, and that didn't help. There are just so many wrong ways to do it. I could write a book on the wrong ways because I've done them all," Williams said. "What I needed was more of a lifestyle change, and I'd never really looked at it that way before."
Williams was the fourth overall pick of the 2002 draft. He played four disappointing seasons with the Bills, struggled with injuries and sat out last season entirely. When he signed with the Redskins earlier this year, team officials thought he was strong and mobile, even though he had a lot of mass on that 6-foot-6 frame.
Coaches didn't require he lose any weight, but when he met with Bugel, the coach asked Williams his optimum playing weight. Williams said 345, and coaches publicly said they hoped he would be down to 370 before camp opened.
Williams worked with Danney last summer, too, but Danney said he saw a different man this time around. "I spent more time holding him back so he wouldn't do too much, as opposed to motivating him to do more," said Danney, who trained 39 NFL players this offseason, including Redskins linebacker London Fletcher. "Mike's mind was right, and he was ready to work every day."
That sometimes meant three workouts in a single day, plus four meals, some as simple as a nutrition bar.
It wasn't easy. But Williams knows what it's like to live without football. He knows the Redskins are looking for a full-time replacement for Jon Jansen at right tackle. And he knows how unhealthy he was walking around at 450 pounds.
"I just kept saying to myself, I want to get back to that ideal weight. Nobody had to pressure me; I had my own goal in mind," he said. "Every step that I pushed that truck, I saw it as one step closer to my goal. So I didn't stop."
Danney said Williams is actually stronger at 342 pounds than he would've been at 370 -- his listed weight in the team's new media guide -- or even 400. "He had a lot of fat to lose," Danney said. "That makes it easier."
Williams said he last played at less than 345 as a sophomore at the University of Texas. Dockery was his teammate then and remembers how impressive Williams was when he was lighter on his feet.
"He was so dominant. Picking guys up, body slamming, just driving people into the ground," Dockery said.
"He was amazing. You can tell he's determined this year to show people what kind of player he can still be."
As for working out together, all four linemen agree it drew the group closer. Before training camp even begins, each has a clear understanding of what the others are willing to endure to ensure the offensive line is better than it was a year ago.
"You see a guy killing himself, flipping a tire 50 yards in 115-degree heat, and you think, I can roll with this guy," Williams said. "You see him do that, you know that you have no excuse -- you got to do it too. So then when it's the fourth quarter and you're down by two points, you know you're with a guy that will be there until the end."
Said Samuels: "We feel like we've been through the fire together already. We've already reached the breaking point, and we all got through it together."
Unlike the end of last season, the entire line will begin camp healthy. After two years in Buffalo, Dockery rejoins the Redskins and will line up next to Samuels. Heyer will begin camp as the front-runner for the open right tackle spot, but Bugel said Heyer also will play some on the left side.
Williams and Jeremy Bridges, a free agent who played in 14 games last year with Carolina, both should get a significant amount of time, too.
"Depth-wise, this is probably one of the better offensive lines we've had here for a long, long time," Bugel said.
Bugel is not concerned about his linemen playing too light. He wants them at the weight they feel most effective, and Danney says that's exactly what he was able to accomplish under the blistering Arizona sun.
"I feel happy for them, just glad they're in a position to give their best performance," Danney said. "I guess you feel a bit like a proud papa."