Sports

NFL Work Stoppage Helping With Player Rehab?

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Damien Woody

In this photo taken Thursday, June 9, 2011, TEST Sports Club physical therapist Jeff Dillon, left, works with former New York Jets offensive lineman and now a free agent Damien Woody at the facility in Martinsville, N.J. Woody, a free-agent tackle who was hurt in the Jets’ playoff victory at Indianapolis last January, is among dozens of NFL players fighting back from major injuries on their own because of the league’s labor lockout. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

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MARTINSVILLE, N.J. (AP) – Offensive lineman Damien Woody is no Nastia Liukin.

So when the 320-pound Woody tries to balance on a metal strip laying on the artificial turf at the TEST Sports Club workout center, part of his rehab from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, it is, well, a bit awkward.

It’s also productive, as are his, uh, leaps on a mini-trampoline, and his squats while holding weights in each hand, his back pushing against a huge, round ball.

And when Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery imitates the swan pose from “The Karate Kid” to enhance his balance and rotational skills? Simply part of his regimen as he heals from back surgery.

Woody, a free-agent tackle who was hurt in the Jets’ playoff victory at Indianapolis last January, and Cotchery are among dozens of NFL players fighting back from major injuries on their own because of the league’s labor lockout. Some, such at Colts safety Chip Vaughn, can have contact with the team’s doctor because that’s who performed his left ankle operation.

Others, including New Orleans’ Jon Stinchcomb, went back to his college roots for his rehab.

They all would be recovering and working at their team’s facilities had there been no lockout, which is in its fourth month. And each of them normally would be fighting the itch to rush back and join their teammates for minicamps and the like.

This year, as the labor impasse continues, these players might be benefiting from the work stoppage.

“This has given a lot of guys time to heal and to get rid of those nagging little injuries, too,” Cotchery says following more than an hour’s worth of exercises, during which he displays the intense concentration any NFL wideout must have. “You can go at your own pace, get your rest, and that has benefited a lot of guys.”

Adds Woody, with a tired smile, his T-shirt soaked with sweat: “Even if there were an offseason program now, I’d be doing rehab. I don’t have to worry about the football side at all, just focus on getting 100 percent, and I’m getting closer. It’s an opportunity to freshen up all the other aches and pains you get from playing 12 seasons in the NFL. So, yeah, in a way it’s perfect timing to have the lockout.”

Woody was released by the Jets on March 1, but he hopes to be back with them once he is fully recovered from what he calls “the most major injury of my career.” He intends on playing somewhere in 2011, if there’s a season.

So he spends his mornings at TEST, along with Cotchery; Jets star linebacker Bart Scott; defensive tackle Barry Cofield, a former Giant who is a free agent; and several other NFL players. Brian Martin, CEO of the facility and another in Florida, has several former players on his staff, plus a rehabilitating player in Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington.

“We’re very careful to make sure we are in no way competing with what the teams do or want their players doing,” Martin says. “But they know the players are getting intensive personal care and rehab work here from a highly trained group of professionals. Our only purpose is to help the players who are recovering from injuries to get well, or to keep the other players who come here, like Bart, in the best of shape.”

Players who were injured last season have their recoveries paid for by their teams under workman’s compensation plans. Vaughn, who is rehabbing in South Florida at Bommarito Performance Systems, is putting in more physical work than in other offseasons. That work simply doesn’t involve playbooks and pass defense, because those aspects of his game depend on contact with the team – which he can’t have.

He starts his workout routine at 7:30 a.m. with two hours of rehab on both his ankle and left shoulder, which also was operated on in the offseason. Then comes stretching for an hour or more, followed by lifting weights.

He also does Pilates twice a week.

“If I was with the team, I’d be rehabbing still, but mixed in with meetings and practices,” he says. “As far as team stuff goes, there isn’t any of that now.

“This whole process is very delicate. I don’t want to come back to the team in worse shape or with something lingering from last season to now. You don’t want the team doubting how you were working. I can’t give the Colts any reason to think I have not been busting my butt.”

Vaughn also has been aided by garments made by Evidence Based Apparel that he might not have discovered without the extra recovery time the lockout has provided. He says his shoulders are stronger than ever – and he’s been plagued by shoulder issues since his freshman year at Wake Forest. Such EBA jackets and shirts also have been worn by Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Brian Urlacher and Troy Polamalu.

“The straps are positioned to help correct the posture,” he says. “At first, I said, ‘What the heck is that?’ But they say in tests, if your posture is where it needs to be, your body produces at maximum output.

“My jumps would go higher and higher, and I knew this can’t just be my rehab. I am starting to use every muscle in my back and shoulder and deltoids. The shirt helps you keep the kind of posture you are supposed to have.”

There’s supposed to be football right around now, too, from minicamps to optional workouts. Without that structure, players have had to improvise to get their own regimen in place.

“This lockout is nasty business,” says Stinchcomb, coming off left knee surgery. “It poses each guy a little different set of issues and problems.

“The University of Georgia was quick to welcome not only me, but there were other former Georgia players in the training room at UGA. So obviously there was a lot of guys that returned to their college campus to get the rehab … and you’re just trying to make the best of it all the way around.”

Cotchery is one of the NFL’s most graceful players, yet he struggles with some of the movements Martin and his staff ask him to do. He admits the most difficult are those designed to enhance his balance and stabilization, and he attacks them as if he was going after a Mark Sanchez pass in traffic.

At times, he gets frustrated. A botched exercise is no different to Cotchery on this June day than a drop in November.

“If you don’t hit the rep right, you want to do it over and over,” he says. “If I feel like I conquered that exercise, it makes me feel better when I come in the next day.

“There’s no football, so I want to come in the next day ready to give my rehab everything I can give it.”

Copyright 2010 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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