I had a chance to talk with Ivan Lewis earlier this week, and he was just about as excited as in the picture above, taken the night the Huskies beat Arizona last season.
The UW’s strength and conditioning coach said he couldn’t be more pleased with how his players have approached their off-season program and the shape they will be in once camp starts on Aug. 9.
For some of you, that may be an eye-rolling sentence — it’s a rare coach who doesn’t rave about how his team performs in the off-season, that they’ve never had better attendance, etc.
But Lewis seems genuinely happy with how things have gone and thinks it will pay off in performance on the field in the fall.
“I think we are a much stronger team,” he said. “I think we are faster. When we tested them running, we are definitely faster than we were last year. This is two good years now of getting our speed improved. On the offensive line, the defensive line, we have gotten stronger and more explosive and meaner. I think those are the key words there. We wanted to be more explosive on the offensive and defensive lines, and a lot more explosive off the ball, and I think we have done that. I think we have gotten more athletic as a football team.”
Explosion was the key phrase for the Huskies this off-season.
When UW coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff reviewed last season, they felt one of the major issues was the ability of the offensive and defensive lines to get off the ball in short-yardage situations (think the Notre Dame goal-line failures, and the entire Oregon State game). They felt the way to address it was to improve the lower-body strength of their team, particularly the linemen. So that has been the emphasis since January. Sarkisian talked of the team increasing its use of plyometrics.
“It all really starts with the power cleans and the hang cleans, with the explosive lifting that we do,” Lewis said. “And then it transitions to our running.”
Running drills were a key part of this summer. Lewis said the emphasis was on resistance training, such as working with sleds.
“Say you pull a sled for 20 yards and now you get back down and run 20 yards without the sled,” he said. “Same thing with the quick-release cords. You run with them for 5-10 yards and then it snaps off. It’s training them to run faster than they actually do.”
Lewis said that the improvement has been so team-wide that he hesitates to single players out.
But asked for a few examples, he said that cornerback Desmond Trufant ran the fastest 40 at 4.33 when the team did its testing in May. Quarterback Jake Locker was next at 4.39. Chris Polk, he said, was the fastest running back at 4.43, though he said Deontae Cooper was at essentially the same speed.
As for some other positions, he cited left tackle Senio Kelemete for doing an “amazing job transforming his body and his mass. Everything is improved.”
Of defensive linemen he cited Alameda Ta’amu, saying “he has really changed his body and done a great job.” He also praised Cameron Elisara, Talia Crichton and Everrette Thompson, saying of the latter that “he is doing everything he can to get back (from an Achilles injury that knocked him out of spring ball).” He also praised linebackers Mason Foster and Cort Dennison.”
“But as a whole, most of the guys have done a really great job,” he said.
Lewis said the speed improvements also have come through changing technique, something that can vary a little bit based on the individual.
“We’ve learned to run better and with better form,” he said. “We did a lot more contrast (resistance) training to get faster, and the biggest thing with speed is not just looking at 40 times but also athletic speed and their football speed on the field, how fast they are and the way they are playing on the field.”
Lewis said that has meant tailoring some drills to specific positions, helping receivers and linemen in their speed getting off the line of scrimmage, and linebackers in 10-yard bursts on the line of scrimmage.
“They are so much more agile,” he said. “It’s just been a difference night and day from when we started two years ago to now.”
Lewis said there was a moment a few days ago when he looked at the team and said “Holy smokes, it’s just so much different” than when he arrived in Dec., 2008.
That includes the attitude of the team. “The camaraderie of the team has just improved so much,” he said. “It’s amazing how they get along and work together and enjoy working out and being held to high standards. That’s a key thing that they understand that we are on their butts because we are expecting more out of them and have higher expectations and it’s great to see them respond with a coachable attitude and energy and excitement.”
Lewis said two things to remember are that the off-season conditioning started in January — it’s more than just the summer. And that it doesn’t end once camp begins. He said the team’s improved condition should allow it to do more weight work during the season than a year ago.
“We’ll be able to do more during training camp now,” he said. “We’ll be able to step up our lifting and it will be more advanced lifting this year during training camp. … Last year during the season, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and Donald Butler, they were in their prime shape and they got better during the season. That’s what we like to look at, not shutting it down and coasting once the season starts, but getting better and better and better.”
I’m sure some of you would like some weight-lifting numbers as well. But Lewis said that since the summer program is not over — it concludes at the end of next week, when the team will then break for about 10 days prior to the beginning of practice — there are no complete numbers yet.
But he said that “our guys look 100 times better. … We will absolutely be more explosive of the ball and be meaner. Mean and explosive and physical up front. We’ve got to be a more physical football teaam and I think we really accomplished that this off-season.”