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NFL Combine Training with Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis and Alan Branch


Lounging around in a semi-circle on the training floor at Athletes’ Performance in Tempe, Ariz. is a mind-boggling collection of talent. It’s as if some audacious creative director has brought together the most recognizable, gifted college football players in the nation for an epic ad campaign.

Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson is discussing a recent addition to the “Diesel” tattoo carved into his sculpted right shoulder with fellow all-star Patrick Willis, a linebacker from Ole Miss. Alan Branch, the best D-lineman in the country, is getting loose alongside former Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn. The scenario is even more unbelievable because it is not a one-time event created to entertain or inspire. These hungry young men have been side by side every morning for weeks, grooming every aspect of their bodies in hopes of impressing NFL coaches at the Combine and their individual pro days.

adrianpetersonLuke Richesson, the performance specialist charged with getting these gridiron greats NFL-ready, says, “This has been seven years in the making. We started our first class with one first-rounder; then we got four, then six, and it just went from there. Talent attracts talent, and we’ve worked hard to step up our game and take our methods to the next level. This has culminated in our having about 30 guys here who have a legitimate shot at having long, successful NFL careers.”

The Athletes’ Performance phenomenon is not limited to the Tempe, Ariz. facility that Willis, Peterson and Branch currently inhabit. The same star-studded training takes place at AP’s Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Gulf Breeze, Fla. locations. In all of these facilities, the best get even better.

Patrick Willis

Position: LB
College: University of Mississippi
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 240 lbs

Scouting Report: The Butkus Award winner and two-time All-American is the best linebacker in the draft. Willis, who recorded 137 tackles his senior season at Ole Miss, was named the Senior Bowl’s Defensive Player of the Game after recording 11 tackles. He plays sideline to sideline, consistently beating backs to the hole with his blazing speed, quickness and instinct. Patrick’s maturity, leadership and respect for coaches and opposing players will make him a positive addition to any defense.

Richesson on Patrick: He is very explosive. He may not have known how exactly to express all of that power, but Patrick is an exceptional athlete. After a few verbal cues, he made all the adjustments almost immediately. He may be one of the fastest 240-pound guys we’ve ever seen. Patrick wanted to improve his flexibility and overall movement, which we’ve been able to accomplish.

Patrick On:

Showing off for NFL coaches
I’m looking forward to impressing some people by testing well in everything. Hopefully, they’ll be impressed with my speed.

AP’s all-star class
To be honest, it’s a huge honor to be around these guys every day. Coming from Ole Miss and not getting a lot of exposure, I feel like I’m the one enjoying this the most. I mean, these are the guys I’ve watched on SportsCenter and in big bowl games. I just love waking up every morning, coming in here to watch these guys work out, and then getting to work out with them.

Lining up together
I’d love the opportunity to play alongside these guys.

What drives him
We’ve all experienced adversity, so to be where we are now is such a blessing. And when something happens now, it doesn’t really compare to what we went through to get here. I just take it with a grain of salt and run with it.

The NFL dream
I’ve wanted to play in the National Football League since I can remember—before I even knew anything about college football. I remember watching the Dallas Cowboys—Jay Novacek, Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin—and wanting to be like them. Then I was told I had to play college football first, which I didn’t even know. I remember thinking, “Alright, whatever it takes to get to that next level.”

Being a role model
For the most part, if you do what you are supposed to do and leave a good legacy, then it shouldn’t be a problem. Stepping in and becoming a role model should be pretty natural for me.

Adrian Peterson

Position: RB
College: University of Oklahoma
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 220 lbs

Scouting Report: His unbelievable combo of size, speed and power make Adrian the best running back in the nation. He loves to deliver the blow, but he can also outrun any defender on the field. His balance, patience and vision have drawn comparisons to the great Eric Dickerson. In his freshman season, Adrian scored 15 touchdowns and set the NCAA’s single season rushing record for a freshman, with 1,925 yards. As a sophomore in 2004, he finished second in the Heisman balloting. Adrian totaled 4,045 career rushing yards in three years—just short of the Oklahoma record, which he would’ve shattered if injuries hadn’t plagued him. He’s nicknamed “AD, All Day,” because he can run over any defense, all day long.

Richesson on Adrian: Adrian wants to wow people with his speed. And much like Patrick and Alan, he has a lot of raw horsepower. In college, your manhood is tested by how hard you continue to grind and work, and Adrian passed. He’s coming off a shoulder injury, so we made sure he stays healthy by continuing to refine his movement skills. He might be one of the fastest running backs in history if he does what we think he’s capable of doing.

Adrian On:

Showing off for NFL coaches
I definitely want to show my speed. I’ve got my technique down, so I am excited about getting out there and running a good 40 for the NFL coaches. I’m excited about the vertical jump, too.

AP’s all-star class
Being around all these stars is cool; I really enjoy it. And I don’t know what Patrick’s talking about—he’s a freak, man! We all have different personalities, but the same work ethic and drive, which is cool. It makes you realize how all these guys got to this level.

Lining up together
Oh boy! That would be some all-star team.

What drives him
I definitely have the inspiration and drive I need. I think about all the hard work I’ve put in since I was seven years old to get to this point. I’ve been through battles and difficult times; so now at this point, when things get tough, getting through it is nothing.

The NFL Dream
Growing up watching Emmitt Smith and Eddie George, I always wanted to be in the National Football League. That was always my ultimate dream. In high school, I went through the process of getting my name out there so I could play in college. Now I’m ready to take that third step.

Being a role model
I’m quite comfortable in the spotlight and being a role model. Like I said, when I was little, I had guys I looked up to and tried to be like. I know how important it is, because kids do what they see on television. Now that I’m in the position where kids out there want to be like me, it feels good to do right and show them how hard work makes an opportunity like this possible.

Alan Branch

Position: DT
College: University of Michigan
Height: 6’6”
Weight: 331 lbs

Scouting Report: The best defensive lineman in the country is huge—great size on a great frame. Alan is extremely strong, and even more impressive is his movement for a big man; he can cover 40 yards in 5 seconds flat. This allows him to take on multiple blockers and to play virtually every position on the D-line. Alan plays the run better than anyone and delivers punishing blows at the point of contact, often in the backfield. The three-year starter amassed nine sacks and 18 tackles for a loss in his 37 games as a Wolverine.

Richesson on Alan: Obviously, the first thing you notice about Alan is his size. But just from watching him goof around, I could tell he can move. He has this uncanny ability to dance. Not many big guys can do what he can. He’s really prospered in our system when it came to movement. He has natural ability, but he needed to know a few finer details. Once he got those, he really improved.

Alan On:

Showing off for NFL coaches
I know I’m not going to shock anyone with my speed like these guys [laughs], but I am going out there to show off my athleticism. For as big as I am, not too many people can move like I do.

AP’s all-star class
Everybody here is good people, so that’s the best part. A lot of us have the same attitude; we are all working hard to get to the same place. It’s kind of funny to think that I saw these guys on TV all season, and now I see them face to face on a more personal level.

Lining up together
That’s one of the first things I talked about when I got here. When I saw Patrick’s speed, I just imagined having him back there as my linebacker. My linebackers, Dave Harris and Prescott Burgess, were good, but I can just imagine this guy’s speed behind me.

What drives him
I just think about all the people who want to be in our position. Rough times happen, but there are a lot more people who want to be here than anywhere else. Knowing that keeps me going.

The NFL dream
It’s always been a dream. But to be honest, when I was little, I knew it was a stretch. Being a kid from New Mexico, I didn’t know anyone from there who got to this level, so I was just glad to keep playing when I got to college. I never thought I would get to play for Michigan, which has always been my favorite team. And because I’m my hardest critic, I didn’t realize I would be in this position until about three months ago. During the year, I didn’t think I was doing well enough to get here, but I was. I just wasn’t good enough to please myself.

Being a role model
I’ve always been the role model type. When I was growing up, I always worked with younger kids and had fun with them to make sure that they were on the right path toward having a successful future.

Patrick, Adrian and Alan were already tremendous athletes when they showed up on AP’s Tempe campus; but Richesson still had work to do to prep them for their NFL auditions—and little time to do it. “These guys are coming off a very long season, 14 games for some,” Richesson says. “The car has been knocked out of alignment so to speak. First we have to get these guys reconditioned, then still make improvements within the six to eight weeks we have. Our main focus is putting them back together while simultaneously pushing the envelope with their strength and power.”

AP’s use of core, flexibility and balance work to rebuild the body is new to most football players. Richesson says, “These guys have a hard time believing how easy the workouts are for them. Don’t get me wrong. We push them, but with more of a focus on quality, not quantity. They’ve proven they have strength and power to battle the entirety of a game, so we focus on the finer points.”

All three future NFL stars have embraced AP’s “finer-points” approach. “This training is so much more specific and hands on than what I’m used to,” Adrian says. “We work on all the small things, which is a little different for me, too.”

For Patrick, the training has resulted in improved flexibility. He says, “The flexibility allows me to run a little bit faster and move a little better than I did. A lot of it has to do with the work we’ve done on my hips—much more than I was used to, but it’s all part of the core and flexibility work they stress here.”

Alan’s body has slimmed down 10 pounds so far, but he says, “that isn’t the biggest response my body has had to this training. I’ve really improved my flexibility and balance more than I thought possible.”

Richesson says this about the workout Patrick, Adrian and Alan are performing this particular day: “Everything about it is geared towards the explosion and power needed for a good 40. There’s no way around it; everything is based on those 40 yards, and even the first 10 yards of explosion.”

And so begins the journey to a blazing 40 and NFL stardom.

Dynamic Warm-up
Perform each drill over 10 yards; repeat.

Richesson: This specific warm-up focuses on increasing their hip separation and mobility. The larger the range of motion of their strides, the more power they can put into the ground.

Lunge with Elbow to Instep and Extension
Step forward into lunge position with right foot. Lower chest until right forearm touches floor inside right foot. Straighten right leg. Repeat on left leg.

Beginning in push-up position, walk feet toward hands keeping legs straight. Walk hands out until you are back in push-up position. Repeat.

Single-Leg Anterior Reach
Step onto right foot and hinge at waist until left leg and chest are parallel to ground. Extend left arm. Repeat on left leg.

Straight Leg March
Keeping legs straight, kick them up to shoulder level in walking, alternating fashion.

High-Knee March
Perform high knees in slow controlled manner, holding each high-knee position for full second.

Rapid High Knees
Perform high knees quickly.

Power Circuit
Perform following three exercises as circuit. Rest after completing full cycle.

Single-Leg Keiser Squat
• Assume position under Keiser Squat Machine, balancing on right leg
• Keeping left foot elevated behind you, drive hips back and squat down
• Keeping right knee directly above foot, hold low position for full second
• Explode forward and up, driving left knee up until you reach full extension with right leg
• Hold extended position for full second; repeat for specified reps
• Perform set on opposite side

Sets/Reps: 1×5, 2×3 each leg
Variation (right): If Keiser equipment is unavailable, perform drill with partner applying tension behind you with bungee cord.
Coaching Points: Keep good posture, and focus on getting full hip extension at the top. As you lower, make sure to keep your knee over your foot so you have a good angle from which to drive.

Richesson: Once we’ve improved hip range of motion and stride length with the warm-up, we work on putting power into the ground. This simulates the first steps of the 40, and it helps them become as explosive as possible with those steps. We hold the bottom position, because in the 40 they have to explode out of a completely static, stopped position with their front leg.

Partner Quad/Hip Flexor Stretch
• Lie on stomach on training table
• Keeping abdomen and hips against table, assist partner as s/he raises right heel toward your butt
• Partner applies pressure at point of tension for one second; then relax
• Repeat for specified reps
• Perform set on opposite leg

Sets/Reps: 3×8-10 each leg
Richesson: This increases flexibility in the quad and hip flexors. It’s a dynamic, active isolation stretch. Symmetry within an athlete is important; so if one side is tighter than the other, focus on that side a little more.

Physioball Leg Raise
• Lie so lower back is on physioball, holding onto stable object behind head
• Keeping legs bent 90 degrees, lower them with control until feet nearly touch floor
• Raise legs and curl body to bring knees above chest
• Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 3×10-15
Coaching Points: Keep movement slow and controlled to avoid relying on momentum.
Richesson: This strengthens the hip flexors and lower abdominals. In absolute speed, you need this strength to hold the proper sprinting posture. A lot of guys are weak there, so they break down after 20 yards.

Speed Work

Explosive Starts
• Assume single-leg stance with forward body lean and off leg elevated behind
• Bend balancing knee; hold position for full second
• Keeping head down and chest low, explode out by driving off leg
• Stay low and accelerate for 15 yards
• After three reps on each leg, perform three 40 starts

Coaching Points: Load front leg by pressing heel toward ground. Keep head down and focus on quick, powerful arm swings.
Richesson: This is a progression based on stability; we are trying to give them the ability to hold that posture. We want them to be able to generate power from that loaded position. If they can’t hold the single-leg position, they will greatly limit their explosion.


Foam Rolling
Use foam roller on each muscle group in the lower body and back for 30 seconds.

Richesson: We ask these guys to train up to 14 times a week. We push them hard, so we have to help them recover. Sometimes there is scarification present, so we use the foam roll to work out some of that stress and get them ready for the next workout.

Josh Staph
Josh Staph is a feature writer for Stack Magazine, providing performance and training info for athletes.
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