By Mark Giannotto
Tuesday, July 20, 2010; D01
Dean Muhtadi was standing in the parking lot of a Bowie gym early last week when another member of his workout group, Minnesota Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, emerged from a black Rolls Royce Phantom.
Without saying a word, Shiancoe went to the back seat and grabbed four Nike shoe boxes. "You said size 16, right?" asked Shiancoe, as he handed Muhtadi four pairs of brand new shoes. "Here ya go."
Muhtadi has been using the same cleats he wore when he finished his career as a defensive lineman at Maryland in January 2009, much to the amusement of his training partners, Shiancoe, Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett and free agent running back Brian Westbrook.
"I literally don't think I've bought a pair of shoes since high school -- maybe some dress shoes," said Muhtadi, a 2004 T.C. Williams grad. "But you know, they've got those real big shiny rims on their cars. I've got a 2003 Hyundai Elantra with the little plastic hubcaps still."
The gift is just one way that the three established NFL veterans, all local football products, are helping Muhtadi this summer as he tries to fulfill his dream of playing in the NFL by making the Arizona Cardinals roster. During informal summer workouts away from NFL practice facilities, the animosity of players on opposing teams dissipates and a different kind of chemistry develops through the grind of hard work.
"Working out with these guys, it's a constant reminder of where I want to be," Muhtadi said. "I thought I was hungry last year, but I've kicked it to a whole other level this year. People call me crazy for all the workouts I do, but I don't rest. I just hope it pays off."
An undrafted free agent out of college, the 310-pound Muhtadi was cut by the Green Bay Packers at the end of his first training camp and spent the 2009-10 season working out and fielding calls from NFL teams while living at his mother's Alexandria home.
When nothing materialized, Muhtadi, who turned 24 Saturday , secured a job as an analyst for Merrill Lynch's D.C. office. In January, three days before he was set to begin, the Arizona Cardinals called.
After hearing about Muhtadi's work ethic at Maryland and Green Bay and viewing some of his highlights on YouTube, the team wanted to fly him to Phoenix to sign a one-year contract.
Muhtadi's relentless workout style quickly endeared him to the Cardinals, and strength and conditioning coach John Lott asked Muhtadi to become training partners this summer with Dockett, a Pro Bowl starter and first team all-pro selection in 2009. The two became friends, and when the team finished its final offseason workout last month, Dockett, a Burtonsville native, invited Muhtadi to work out with him, Westbrook, and Shiancoe.
Lott "contacted me and told me there was a guy who works really hard, pushes you to the next level, and he came out and it was everything that my coach told me," Dockett said. "Dean's trying to make his mark and I'm trying to keep my mark."
The group meets at the baseball diamond of Bowie's Glen Allen Park around 11 a.m., where Westbrook is soon chuckling about the fact that Muhtadi, despite receiving the new shoes from Shiancoe a few minutes earlier, is lacing up his old Maryland cleats.
The workout begins with 40-yard sprints attached to resistance bands, led by Westbrook's childhood friend, Mac James, who runs the Athletic Dominance training program. Muhtadi, who typically works out on his own after sessions with James, wants greater resistance. The rest of the group, James included, shoots him down.
"We're working on longevity here," he says.
"The energy these old guys don't have anymore, I definitely get it out of Dean," said James, a former tailback at Salisbury University who has been training Dockett since 2007 and Shiancoe for the past two offseasons. "When they don't feel like doing something, Dean's in the background yelling, 'Yeah brother, let's go!' It's to the point where I have to throttle him back."
At one point, Westbrook pulls Muhtadi aside. They were asked to stop and start in the middle of the resistance drill to work on acceleration and Westbrook critiques Muhtadi's technique.
"When you slow down, you gotta sit down," the eight-year pro says, bending his knees to demonstrate. "It gives you that extra burst. The coaches will like that."
After nearly two hours, the quartet returns to their cars, changes shirts, and begins the drive to the weight room, where James has tailored lifting programs for each player. Dockett, the jokester of the group, has designated Muhtadi his BlackBerry photographer as he does squats with large chains attached to the end of the bar. Upon finishing his set, Dockett posts the images to his Twitter account.
Muhtadi hopes the support of a star player such as Dockett and the experience gained from these workouts will help his chances of making the Cardinals.
"These guys have been there, they've done that, they know what they're talking about," Muhtadi says as he drives back to Alexandria at the end of the three-hour session. "You've got three completely different personalities, three guys with three different stories, so it's just been great to learn about where they come from and what makes them tick and how they've been successful, and apply [it] to my own life and my own career and really get something special going here."
But after last year, Muhtadi knows there are no guarantees. His contract would pay him the league-minimum $320,000 if he were to make Arizona's regular-season roster or practice squad. Until then, he is paid $120 for every day spent at the practice facility or in training camp, enough to break even on his rent, food and student loans.
If it doesn't pan out, Muhtadi has assurances his job with Merrill Lynch still will be available. But with the company he's keeping, only the NFL is on his mind at the moment. "He's got a perfect attitude and he works hard," Dockett says out of Muhtadi's earshot. "Our coaches like him, I like him, the team likes him."