Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Approaching the Bench | by Pat

Coinciding with the most recent NFL Combine, there is a recent interview ($) with Mendoza on that provides some insight into ND's strength program and perhaps a few clues as to why we're seeing the Combine results we are. Amid the talk about the physical development of the team and how Mendoza sees them responding to his motivation was this nugget about the focus of his efforts.

Olympic-type workouts to develop strong bursts and explosiveness are the cornerstone of the program, with bench press, squats and other power exercises for building raw strength priority No. 2.
Of course, the bench press is a still a weight room staple, but according to Mendoza ($) in an interview from 2006, the goal has been to build the player from the ground up.
"Everything is ground based that we do, but it starts with your legs. Again with football you have to play on the ground, so one of my concerns was our leg strength when I first got here. I’m really really excited in the things that we’ve done in a year and a half.”
Getting back to the Combine results for a second, ND's only offensive linemen at the pre-draft event this year was John Sullivan. He benched the requisite 225 pounds 21 times, which was only 35th best out of the invited linemen. Last year's ND OL performance similarly drew more than a few raised eyebrows when Ryan Harris (22) and Dan Santucci (23) were out-benched by their own quarterback. The average bench for an offensive lineman that year was 27 reps so even allowing for Brady Quinn's record-breaking bench total, Harris and Santucci were below the average output of their peers.

ND players do seem to do better in tests that emphasis Mendoza's priorities, such as "explosiveness" and leg strength. While Sully's bench numbers weren't near the top, he had the 2nd highest vertical leap among offensive linemen. Similarly, Carlson was near the top for tight ends and Trevor Laws had the best vertical among defensive tackles. Last year, Santucci's vertical jump was good for 7th best, as was Ndukwe's when compared to other safeties. Darius Walker had the best jump of any running back and one of the top jumps at the entire combine. The Irish players have also performed well in drills like the 3-cone drill or shuttle runs that measure ability to quickly change direction.

Of course, even if we agree that his training methods are effective, that doesn't answer the question of if they are the ideal ones for ND football. I imagine many Irish fans don't get too excited about an offensive lineman's vertical jump or 3-cone drill time while ND continues to struggle on 3rd and short.

As the head of the program, Charlie is the one that ultimately puts his stamp of approval on ND's strength training regimen. It would be especially interesting to hear Charlie's thoughts on the ND strength and conditioning program, especially considering his new routine of hanging around the weight room each morning while the players are lifting. Does he like what he sees? Does he even care about the NFL Combine results? Has he asked for any changes?

Mendoza did let out that this winter the focus of the OL has changed a bit from the rest of the team. The O-line will slow down a bit on the conditioning aspect of training and work on gaining more mass. However, as with the rest of the recent changes to how the program is going to be run, we're just going to have to wait until the team takes the field in September to judge the results.