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How NFL players are preparing now for the regular season, explained by a former lineman

Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz details the work the players are putting in during the quiet part of the NFL offseason.

NFL: New York Giants-Rookie Minicamp Sarah Stier-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL offseason was forever changed with the new CBA in 2011. The offseason used to be semi-unregulated, beginning in mid-March and having no time restrictions applied on the amount of activity per day. It concluded near the end of June, and then players had a month off before heading into training camp.

Now, with the new (can we even say that anymore?) CBA, there are specific guidelines to all the offseason activities.

There are three phases to the offseason program, including a minicamp to end the third phase. Since the minicamp schedule and practices are different than the third phase, we players always consider minicamp as the fourth phase, even if the NFL doesn’t.

This is the basic timeline this year for teams that have returning coaches. Teams with new coaches have the option of reporting two weeks earlier and have an additional minicamp option:

Phase One: April 15, April 22
Phase Two: April 29, May 6, May 13
Phase Three: May 20, 27, June 3
Veteran Minicamp: June 11-13

Per the current CBA, there are specific guidelines for phases. Let’s take a look at each one to get a better understanding of what NFL players do in the summer.

Phase One is all about getting back into the swing of things — even if it’s a little boring

Phase One is the first two weeks of the offseason program, and each week is four days in the facility. Teams are allowed to work with the players for four hours total: two hours max in the weight room, which includes only 90 minutes of field work.

Since two hours can barely be enough time to get your lift and run/conditioning in, there are times players will return on their own to the weight room to finish their lift. It’s not required that players come back after their two hours have passed to finish their workout, though most will do it.

The first week in the weight room is mostly exploratory.

Strength coaches want to see the physical shape that players have returned in and how they are moving. When we used to report in the middle of March, players were often “out of shape” because the season had just ended. Now, with reporting days in the middle of April and more specialized offseason training, players come back more in shape than before.

There can be two hurdles in the first week of lifting. First can be a veteran player entering an established strength program. Veteran players will have their favorite lifts and workouts, and will try to work with the strength coach to tailor their workouts to what they like best, or what’s needed for their bodies.

Second is when there’s a new strength staff trying to implement their own program. Every single player has to learn what that program is and what the goals are. The new coaches must see what their athletes can and can’t do. It often leads to an awkward start.

After those two hours are finished with the strength staff, you have time with your coaches.

That time is limited to the classroom because coaches aren’t permitted on the field with the players. This is when the head coach welcomes the team back, sets the standards, and gets the process of his team-building started. The coordinators on both sides of the ball begin to install the offense or defense.

The playbook gets installed in Phase One, Phase Three, veteran minicamp, and the start of training camp.

Returning veterans can find these meetings dull. No other way to put it. If you’ve played in that scheme for a while, then this is all information you’ve heard before. Yes, there might be wrinkles, but they aren’t enough to keep your focus. Veterans kill time in meetings by taking excellent notes, drawing in their notebooks, chewing sunflower seeds or jerky, and lastly, as one friend told me when I asked how he handles the boredom, “I dunno, just do.” Ha!

Phase Two is where the real fun begins

The second phase is weeks 3-5 of the offseason program. The rules above apply still with a few exceptions. It’s four hours in the facility, but now coaches can be on the field.

The two hours of classroom time is now spilt into half: half in the room and half on the field. “Drills” on the field, whether team or individual, are without contact and without an opposing unit. When the offense is on the field running through plays, the defense and coaches aren’t allowed to be in front of the players. In their place are empty trash cans that get moved around.

This type of drilling can be useful and veterans enjoy this way more than sitting in a classroom. Even though there’s no opposing unit, you can still work on footwork and timing, and it’s a valuable way to start getting your body ready for the season.

There’s no live contact allowed in Phase Three, but it happens anyway

The third phase are the OTAs, or organized team activities. Teams are permitted three per week for the first two weeks, then a fourth one the final week, for 10 total. They also bump from four to six hours per day.

The day is split up between lifting, meetings, and practice. Well, it’s close to a practice. Helmet are on, drills are run, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 are allowed, but there’s not supposed to be live contact.

That’s a joke, though. There’s plenty of contact in the trenches, but the older you get in the league, the more you know how to protect yourself and get your work in without contact. For the younger guys, it can be a bloodbath in there.

During this phase, the offense and defense get reinstalled from the beginning. It’s the first time players get a chance to get back on the field in something that’s similar to football conditions. Rookies get to see the speed of the game up close, even though it’s not remotely close to that of games.

But, guys can start getting their sea legs underneath them. It starts to feel like football again.

These first nine weeks, before the three-day veteran minicamp, are four days a week. They are either Monday-Thursday, or Monday-Friday with Wednesday off. Even though there’s a limit on activities with the coaches and strength staff, players get their time in the facility.

They typically eat two meals, plus any rehab or prehab. Players will work on mobility or get extra reps in the weight room. It becomes a work day with the opportunity to be home well before dinner time.

The offseason program allows for travel on the weekends if so needed. Many players don’t make a permanent residence in their playing city, so they head home every weekend of the offseason program to see family before the season begins.

I’ve done this plenty of times and while the travel can be tiresome, it’s much needed to see your family. Players take vacations on long weekends and generally enjoy their days off, knowing time is limited once training camp starts.