HOUSTON — Nine of Trent Williams’s fellow Washington Redskins offensive linemen gathered around him in the corner of a state-of-the-art gym earlier this month. Each wore gear emblazoned with “Hogs 2.0,” and they were here, at Williams’s invitation, to work out together, bond and work toward their collective goal: achieving success similar to the hard-blocking, hard-living group that was central to the franchise’s three Super Bowl titles more than two decades ago.
But first, the 320-pound left tackle had a revelation to make: He went vegan.
Apart from the nickname redux, this week in Texas wasn’t going to remind anyone of the 1980s, when linemen lunched on hot dogs and drank post-practice beers in a lawn mower shed. Rather, the 2.0 version of the Hogs talked about giving up meat; employed the latest (and most ruthless) fitness techniques at O Athletik, a facility co-owned by Williams and New Orleans Saints running back Adrian Peterson; and sipped late-night Hennessy at a stimulating hip-hop lounge.
As one of the NFL’s best offensive lines over the past two seasons and a critical — if perhaps overlooked — driver in the team’s recent offensive turnaround, these eclectic personalities are attempting to establish their own aura while drawing inspiration from one of the best units in NFL history.
“I tagged a 2.0 onto it because I didn’t want people to think we were trying to emulate the Hogs and say we had as much success or we were as good as they were,” Williams said. “But we wanted to pay homage to them and let them know that’s what we’re chasing. We’re chasing their greatness, and we acknowledge that they were great, and we acknowledge we want to be just like them — if not better.”
Williams invited all 15 Redskins linemen to his offseason home, and all but five took him up on it. The rarity of an offensive lineman camp doesn’t escape Williams, who has organized the logistics the past two years. He noticed how quarterbacks often got together with their wide receivers and tight ends during the offseason to work on things such as timing and familiarity. But the same wasn’t true for offensive linemen, for whom continuity is just as important.
“If you don’t trust the man next to you, ain’t got [expletive],” Isaiah Williams said while stretching.
Trent Williams handled all his teammates’ expenses, including flights, hotels and three sets of Hogs 2.0 workout attire in black, burgundy and gray provided by Nike. And also all meals, which proved to be challenging because some of the largest men on the team weren’t eating red meat, poultry or dairy products.
Trent Williams explained his lifestyle change, which was on its sixth day. The five-time Pro Bowl honoree had recently watched “What the Health,” a 92-minute documentary on Netflix that “examines the link between diet and disease.” The documentary had opened up his understanding of how humans are the only species to cook animal meat and drink milk from other mammals — which, the movie said, helps contribute to different cancers and Type 2 diabetes.
Fellow 300-pound offensive linemen Arie Kouandjio and Isaiah Williams saw the documentary soon after and adjusted their eating habits. Kouandjio went full vegan, and Williams committed to a pescatarian diet.
“It’s kind of ironic because hogs eat everything,” Kouandjio said. “They even eat their own kind.”
The first workout started at about 12:30 p.m., nearly 90 minutes behind schedule. James Cooper, founder of O Athletik and the group’s trainer for the week, was wrapping up another workout session that featured Peterson, Green Bay Packers running back Ty Montgomery, Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes, Minnesota Vikings defensive linemen Danielle Hunter and Tom Johnson, Redskins defensive end Joey Mbu and Redskins linebacker Pete Robertson, Trent Williams’s cousin.
Cooper took it easy on the Hogs 2.0 to start, but shirts and shorts were drenched in sweat after an hour. They ran through a series of drills using agility ladders and cones, with an emphasis on footwork and the fluidity from one movement to another, before moving on to “get-up” sprints starting from a downward push-up position.
“Y’all look like these Instagram videos moving your feet,” Cooper said, displeased by how the linemen were chopping their feet through the ladder. “That’s not [expletive] fitness.”
The players walked off the field and approached four TRX suspension cables hanging off the top of the gym’s powerlifting racks. They wouldn’t use weights on this day, just their body weight. It followed a session of offensive line drills with George Hegamin, an NFL lineman from 1994 to 2000, and an optional boxing session to complete a nearly five-hour workout.
Former center Jeff Bostic said the original Hogs’ two-hour workouts were not nearly as sophisticated.
“We did mostly football-related stuff,” said Bostic, who spent all 14 seasons with the Redskins during the Hogs era. “Why are we running miles and miles? Linemen run short things, so run striders. We’d be on the treadmill for 60 seconds, off for 40. And you’re running it at eight to 10 miles an hour.”
As for diet? Forget about it.
“We were on an everything diet,” Bostic said.
Bostic recalled a story of Russ Grimm crushing six hot dogs with all the fixings and a full plate of fries in between practices one day, only to puke it out through his face mask on the field. During the season, the Hogs drank beers in the lawn mower shack at the old Redskins Park after every practice in “The 5 O’Clock Club” with running back and club founder John Riggins.
“We solved a lot of world problems and did a lot of bonding over 12-ounce curls,” Bostic said.
At the first dinner for the Hogs 2.0, there wasn’t an alcoholic beverage on the table at Del Frisco’s steakhouse. The venue might not have seemed like an ideal spot for vegans, but Trent Williams and Kouandjio got by all week on salads, bread and pasta, while the rest of the group ordered lobster tails, lamb chops and, of course, 18-ounce steaks.
After waiters tuned the television to an NBA summer league contest between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings, the conversation shifted to the difference in salaries between the NFL and NBA. Players remarked at how basketball players who can’t make NBA rosters can play overseas.
“They got China, Germany. They got options,” tackle Ty Nsekhe said. “You don’t make the 53-man roster?” He ended his remark with a hearty laugh.
The linemen were the last ones to leave the steakhouse, cracking jokes and bonding at the table until midnight.
A laundry cart rolled onto the indoor soccer field loaded with custom Hogs 2.0 Nike trainer shoes to match their all-burgundy attire. It was a gift from Nike to Williams, who spent the previous week at the company’s headquarters to volunteer at its high school football recruiting camp, “The Opening.” The shoes featured Hogs 2.0 branding on the tongue, tusks on the side panels and a gold heel tab with burgundy stitching to replicate the Redskins’ helmet stripe.
Williams called out shoe sizes and tossed orange boxes to his teammates. Just then, right tackle Morgan Moses walked in, green smoothie in hand, chuckling, “Y’all started Christmas without me, huh?”
The joy from these custom shoes vanished once they walked outside into the sweltering heat. They stared at a hill with a FieldTurf surface, 40 feet long and 35 feet high at a 33-degree angle. For the next hour, they ran inclined sprints and both forward and backward bear crawls while suffering carpet burns on their hands.
“Some of y’all came out just to say y’all were here,” Cooper said when their pace slowed down. “Let me see that selfishness now.”
When Cooper interned for the San Antonio Spurs in 1995, he loved how players would do reverse bear crawls on arena steps, but he thought the consistent incline of a hill would be better. So when O Athletik opened its doors in April 2016, he made sure to have one patented and installed.
“When you do it on the back end of a workout like this, it becomes 75 percent backloaded mental,” Cooper said. “You figure out why you’re working.”
The San Francisco 49ers loved the hill. They’re expected to have their own completed in time for training camp. As for whether one will be installed at Redskins Park: “I hope not. Woooo, I would hope not,” Trent Williams responded, while Isaiah Williams and Nsekhe agreed. “The hill is a helpless feeling.”
Hogs 2.0 left a trail of sweat on their trek to the bench presses, where they worked on strengthening their upper bodies and cores. As they balanced stability balls between their legs while doing bench reps of 225, 315 and 405 pounds, the linemen briefly stopped and gazed across the gym at a television.
“Is Kirk Cousins a Franchise Quarterback?” read the graphic on a Fox Sports 1 talk show. The quarterback the linemen have helped protect for the past two seasons had six days to reach an agreement with the Redskins on a long-term deal. The linemen speculated about what would happen to Cousins and the Redskins.
“He already said he wanted to know how free agency feels,” Moses said.
The following Monday, Cousins would opt to play on the franchise tag for a second straight season. He has benefited from one of the league’s better offensive lines. The Redskins have allowed the second-fewest sacks (50) in the NFL over the past two seasons, and Washington was one of five teams to rank in the top 10 of Pro Football Focus’s pass-blocking and run-blocking grades last year, a season that saw the team finish third in total yards.
This success has coincided with the franchise’s significant investment in the position. The Redskins used the No. 5 overall pick in the 2015 draft on Brandon Scherff (who did not attend the camp), signed Trent Williams to a five-year, $66 million contract extension in August 2015 and locked in a third foundational piece in Moses with a five-year, $38 million extension this April. The team also hired former NFL head coach Bill Callahan to be its offensive line coach in January 2015.
“Even if you’re aiming too high, you’ve got to set goals,” Williams said. “That’s one of the goals we set. We want to be just as good as [the original Hogs]. We want to go down in history as one of the best O-lines to play the game. Whether that will happen, who’s to know? But we’ve still got to plan to be that great.”
Hegamin led Hogs 2.0 back outside and onto the volleyball court, featuring sand imported from Florida beaches. It’s bleached and sifted to a micrometer that meets pro beach volleyball standards. “Where y’all get this sand from?” Moses asked as his feet sunk into the surface. “[Expletive] feels like it’s from Aruba.”
Six cones were spread out horizontally on the court. Wearing socks to avoid burns in the 96-degree heat, they shuffled their feet across the sand while punching out with medicine balls of 10, 15 and 20 pounds. They did it so often they created trenches in the sand.
“I broke through my first wall about two hours ago,” Nsekhe said while heaving for oxygen during the end of the workout. “I done found another wall.”
Following another late dinner at Steak 48, the Hogs 2.0 were running nearly two hours behind schedule when they arrived at the Heights High School track.
Cooper pushed them through three 300-meter sprints, two 200-meter sprints and five 100-meter sprints. He wasn’t satisfied with the effort on the final 100-meter dash, which turned into a halfhearted jog, so Cooper added a sixth “for good measure” before initiating a strenuous, 15-minute ab workout.
“How are y’all going to get to January if y’all can’t hold an ab position?” Cooper yelled. “I’m not being negative. I’m just telling the truth.”
Offensive linemen run in short bursts throughout a game, but these difficult cardio sessions were intentional. Cooper trains NFL athletes with the same approach he trains short-distance runners. He incorporates cross-country during their offseasons, even if they are 100-meter sprinters, so they have enough endurance and tissue for those final 20 meters during the season.
“It’s the same with football. Performance-wise, you don’t get to just burst 10 yards,” Cooper said. “How about making a play and still being 27 yards up the field? Sometimes it’s not where you belong, but other times it calls for it if you’re really fast enough and agile and you can make that play. ”
Another scheduled session with Hegamin was canceled, with the exhausted players wary of risking injury right before training camp. Only half the players mustered up enough energy to go out to Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse, where Williams shared his battles with insomnia. On nights before a 1 p.m. game, there are times when Williams doesn’t fall asleep until 3 a.m.
“I swear I be thinking about football all night,” Williams said.
After the table was cleared, Kouandjio, Vinston Painter, Isaiah Williams, Ronald Patrick and John Kling agreed that he should go see a sleep expert. The conversation continued well past midnight.
“I guess these 9 o’clock dinners are kind of late, huh?” Williams said.
A recovery day: No more hills, no more sand drills and no more sprints. Rather, the Hogs 2.0 were participating in one-on-one drills for the first time in 2017 because the drills are outlawed during offseason practices. The group of players they went against included Hughes, causing Trent Williams to recall how he went two years without allowing a sack until Hughes got the best of him in Week 16 during the 2015 season. On a play-action pass in the third quarter, Hughes hesitated inside, then blew right by Williams off the edge to bring Cousins down. Williams slapped his hands together in frustration after the play.
“I try not to hold a grudge,” Williams joked.
Nsekhe took off for the airport after one-on-ones, while everyone else walked into a room with yoga instructor Alicia Tillman. They started with muscle activation, or power yoga flow, and finished with deep stretching, called “athletic restore” at O Athletik. Tillman curated a playlist heavy on Tupac Shakur and Jay-Z, causing Hogs 2.0 to rap and whistle in between the grunts and groans from downward dogs and leg stretches using a yoga strap.
“My man over here struggling to get that strap around his ankles,” Moses said as he observed Isaiah Williams wrestling with the yoga strap across the room. The ensuing laughter from the unit echoed in the tiny space, but Tillman later demanded silence and told the linemen to close their eyes.
It was the quietest Hogs 2.0 had been all week. “Nobody was horrible, so good job,” Tillman said.
Once the session ended, Kouandjio quickly stepped out of the musty room and came back to wipe off his yoga mat. “It smells like . . . catfood,” Kouandjio said.
Trent Williams Facetimed Redskins tight end Jordan Reed, who was training in Miami, to see whether he was still vegan after making the switch about a month before. He wasn’t, which Williams had expected. Reed started eating meat the previous week because he was losing too much weight.
Williams, who was nine days in at this point, had the same concerns as Reed about maintaining weight, particularly once training camp started. But he planned to remain vegan during the first few days of practice and reassess.
“I’m bettering my life,” Williams said. “I ain’t [expletive] with that animal product no more.”
Williams hung up and asked Isaiah Williams to make a reservation at Yauatcha, a modern Chinese tearoom across the street with just two locations in the United States (the other is in Honolulu). There was a problem, however: Hogs 2.0 were able to get into every steakhouse this week in tank tops, gym shorts and slides, but Yauatcha had a stricter dress code.
Some of the guys wanted to bail and go back to Steak 48 across the street, but Williams was eager to try the food on Cooper’s glowing recommendation and persuaded the restaurant to allow the group in.
“I’m giving y’all a head start so I won’t be embarrassed walking in,” said Cooper, who waited up front as customers were fixated on these 300-pound linemen walking through a snazzy restaurant dressed to play basketball.
“I think I heard people say, ‘Now, how did they get in here?’ ” Ronald Patrick said.
With the players isolated from the rest of the guests in a private section, Cooper, who lived in China during the 1990s as a professional kickboxer, fielded questions about the menu.
The linemen’s palates expanded as they ordered cheung fun, rice noodle rolls stuffed with prawns and bean curd, scallop dumplings and baked puffs stuffed with venison — the last of which ended Williams’s nine-day vegan streak.
“I don’t know what that venison is, but that [expletive] is hittin’!” Williams yelled. Isaiah Williams caved, too, at the sight of aromatic crispy duck.
“I’m 99 percent” vegan, Trent Williams later said. “I’m working on that last 1” percent.
Williams spent the entire dinner, which ended at about 11:15 p.m., rallying Hogs 2.0 to hit a nightclub on the final night. Some were down; others were ready for bed. A few agreed to do an optional workout with Williams on Friday.
Isaiah Williams, Painter, Catalina and Patrick joined Trent Williams and some of his college and childhood friends at Jet Lounge, a small, dimly lit spot two blocks from Toyota Center, where the Rockets play. Floor-to-ceiling warehouse windows on one side of the lounge looked out toward the downtown Houston skyline.
They grabbed a table next to the entrance. Some sat on the linen couch and two leather armchairs. Williams ordered two bottles: Today’s world problems would be solved over Hennessy and Ciroc.
Williams got bumped as two men were dragged out for fighting in front of the section, but he was unfazed and remained calm. The DJ then electrified the crowd with nothing but Texas hip-hop cuts for the next 40 minutes. Williams flung his hands to the soundtrack of his childhood, spanning from Big Moe to Lil’ Keke to DJ Screw. He rapped along to Z-Ro’s “Mo City Don,” the state anthem in certain parts of Texas.
Slow, loud and bangin’, all in my trunk.
Trunk full of funk, I ain’t never been a punk.
“Only in Houston can you get this!” one of Trent Williams’s childhood friends yelled over the music, exposing his $10,000 diamond grill and providing a temporary light source. Even the linemen who weren’t from Texas couldn’t help but nod their heads with approval until it reached 2 a.m., when the lounge flipped on the ceiling lights.
Williams and the rest of Hogs 2.0 weren’t ready to call it a night yet. While they pinpointed their next location and hopped into black cars, Williams said he still planned to make it to the gym for the unit’s optional 10:30 a.m. workout. At the latest, he thought he would arrive at about 11 a.m.
At 11:30 a.m., 39 people were at O Athletik, not a single Hog in sight.