KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Swimming, boxing and vigorous workouts in the neighborhood gym had kept Ryan Lilja in good football shape.
During three days of light training with about 45 teammates, the veteran right guard of the Kansas City Chiefs discovered his personal conditioning during the NFL lockout may not have been as productive as hoped.
“I thought I was (in shape), but coming here running some plays and being with the guys, I’ve got a ways to go,” he said. “So I’m excited about refocusing on (conditioning). We came out here and kind of gauged ourselves a little bit and got to work. Hopefully, we can all get back to work because it’s fun to be back with the guys.”
Organized by quarterback Matt Cassel, safety Jon McGraw and linebacker Derrick Johnson, the Chiefs got together on a local high school football field Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for the first time since the NFL lockout began in March. They mostly ran routine plays and there was never any contact. Media were allowed to watch only the last half-hour on Thursday afternoon.
“This was more of a mental practice, not a lot of physical going on,” said Johnson. “You’re running around, everybody working out. It’s just a good time to get back with your teammates, get the camaraderie going, to freshen up on the mental aspect of the game and some basic plays.”
While several other teams such as the Packers and Saints have held public events, the Chiefs had kept to themselves. Not many Chiefs players actually live in Kansas City and the logistics of getting everyone together were somewhat involved. But after getting more than 40 team members to agree to come to town, the players hired security guards to make sure everyone kept order, and paid a professional trainer to stand by in case anyone got hurt.
There was no contact at any time, although the workouts were more vigorous than most anticipated.
“We were going harder than I expected we were going to go,” said Lilja. “We thought, ‘Hey, one step, chill.’ Man, we were running just like we had helmets on, like it was a Friday practice. And guys were moving around. It felt like normal. But we didn’t get anybody hurt.”
Center and player representative Rudy Niswanger said that after three months off, it felt good just hearing Cassel calling out cadence.
“It was a good workout,” he said. “Any time you get the guys together, you call the plays, you run through them, you break the huddle, you get a little sweat, you build that camaraderie, that team unity, that’s a good thing. We had a lot of guys. We had almost enough for two full teams, both sides.”
McGraw, who has said he might want to coach one day, helped run the pre-practice meetings where everybody was drilled on what they would be working on each day.
“I enjoyed it. We were in the classroom drawing things up, making sure all the guys know what’s going on when we come out and do our walkthroughs,” he said.
Everybody agreed they’re itchy to get the lockout lifted and return to work.
“I tell them to be prepared,” Niswanger said. “I tell them to always be ready. We don’t know if something’s going to happen one day from now or six months from now, so be ready, be prepared. Your body’s your business and you’ve got to be ready to use it.”
Tight end Leonard Pope was on hand for the workouts with a fresh perspective on many things. Last Saturday, the 6-foot-7 Pope dived fully clothed into a swimming pool in Americus, Ga., and saved 6-year-old Bryson Ross from drowning.
Pope said the youngster’s mother, Anne Moore, still calls him almost every day to express her thanks.
“That could have been my kid,” he said. “I would hope someone would do the same thing for my kid. His mom keeps calling me, telling me she can’t thank me enough. She said she stayed up all night just looking at her son and just praying about how grateful she was that he’s OK, that I was able to get him out.”