Sun, Oct 07, 2012 - Page 19 News List

NFL: Free agents find place to fight for a second chance

Reuters, NORTH MIAMI BEACH, Florida

Jyles Tucker, right, and Legedu Naanee run sprints during workouts with other NFL hopefuls at the Bommarito Performance Systems facility in North Miami Beach, Florida, on Thursday.

Photo: Reuters

The quarterback takes three steps back, glances to his left and zips a pass right into the path of a sprinting receiver who grasps the ball, turns sharply and rushes into open space.

It is a perfect play, performed by professionals, but no one is paying them and no one is even watching.

There is no offensive coordinator barking instructions from the sidelines, no assistant coach taking notes and no teammates shouting on encouragement.

This is the world of National Football League (NFL) free agents, players without a team and whose only hope of seeing game action this season is plugging a gap somewhere caused by injury or bad form.

For NFL players who get the feared call into the general manager’s office and return to their locker to see their nameplate already removed, there are three options — quit, go to the gym alone or work out with other free agents.

Some of those who take the latter option gather at an unlikely venue — a Jewish community center in North Miami Beach, where Bommarito Performance Systems helps players rehab from injury or stay fit and be ready for when a team calls.

They gather daily at 8am, Super Bowl winners like Plaxico Burress walking past little old ladies heading for a gentle gym session. Experienced NFL receivers like Donte Stallworth catching the attention only of children heading for the outdoor basketball court.

“It is hard to simulate the actual [NFL] team practices and games, but this is the closest thing I can possibly do,” says Bryant McFadden, a former NFL cornerback who won two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers, as he sits on a bench, dripping in sweat after an intense session on the field. “You can get a call at anytime saying: ‘Be on the field tomorrow’ and you have to be ready to go. That’s why I am here consistently.”

While the surroundings may hint at an informal workout, the reality is anything but casual. Program founder Pete Bommarito has a team of fitness and medical staff who ensure that agents looking for work for out-of-contract players turn to him.

“We have a good track record of keeping guys in shape,” says Bommarito, who is particularly proud of one of his clients, running back Kevin Smith, who was a free agent from March last year.

PHYSICAL DRILLS

After nine months away from a team, Smith was called back by the Detroit Lions and in just his second game, ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns.

“Football makes certain metabolic demands and we can mimic those,” Bommarito says. “The only thing we can’t do is hit. I tell guys all the time, as long as you stay focused, positive and consistent, we will keep you ready from a mental and physical standpoint.”

Tough physical drills in the South Florida heat and humidity, such as dragging loaded sledges across the field, are followed by weight sessions with individually planned routines, as well as any rehab sessions and ball work.

“A lot of fans are in the dark about the amount of work that guys put in trying to get back into the league,” says receiver Danario Alexander, who is searching for a deal after being cut by the St Louis Rams in August.

The players clearly enjoy the chance to maintain the camaraderie of being part of a group, the chance to test themselves against fellow professionals while submitting themselves to a routine.

“Being around other guys that have the same hunger that I have is very important for me, instead of being somewhere else working out by myself,” McFadden says.

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