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David Feeley’s influence turns to 20 MPH top speed for Jeff Thomas

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How the ‘Canes new S&C coach has changed Miami’s weight room persona

Miami v Virginia Tech Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

David Feeley has walked into Coral Gables, FL and completely changed Miami’s strength and conditioning persona. Whenever a new S&C coach arrives at a school fans always hear the same canned answers from players: we’re making gains, he’s crazy, we’re working harder than ever before, it’s a lot of new things I’m not used to, etc.

However, the rumors swirling are that many of the players are seeing a positive change in their physique but how has the new strength coach improved the athletic performance? It will be something we will have to look closely at over the course of the season. How do the ‘Canes hold up in the trenches against power teams like Virginia and Pitt who have built their programs for running the football. Then there’s the speed of the Florida Gators and FSU Seminoles, too. If Miami is truly improving their athletic performance they’ll master a three-fold process of being more powerful in the trenches, out running opponents in space, and lasting through four quarters of football.

Functional testing over 40’s

The average human runs a low end 10 MPH sprint and a high end 15 MPH sprint. The world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, ran nearly a 28 MPH world record sprint. While Miami could’ve told us the 40 yard dash time of Jeff Thomas that’s a non-functional display of speed. It’s straight line, it’s in a rehearsed situation, and there are no defenders chasing the runner. Instead, the ‘Canes have set their sights on running speed during action, and Thomas has flashed big time speed this fall.

Jeff Thomas, the junior wide receiver from St. Louis, is back in the Miami program and flashing his game changing speed. Thomas has averaged 18 yards per catch as a Hurricane, averaged 26 yards per kickoff, and 24.6 yards per punt return in 2018. So when Thomas broke the 20 MPH marker in fall, that meant David Feeley owed pushups and the players rejoiced.

Oregon’s Jim Radcliffe was on the cutting edge of changing our idea of conditioning when the Ducks went on their successful run with Chip Kelly. Oregon wanted to establish themselves in a niche, and while Stanford went after big and powerful, the Ducks went after speed and flash. Training speed, not conditioning, is a key difference in programming- but also your strength program itself has to reflect wanting to sprint faster.

Training for speed

One area of concern I had with Coach Feeley’s program was the focus on 110 yard sprints. Players don’t run 110 yards in a single play, offensive linemen might run 110 yards all game in some conditions. In order to practice that type of long distance conditioning it takes, well, practice time. You would have to dedicate an entire day to practice running 16 110’s in order to perform them for a conditioning test.

As a speed coach, you have to realize that you cannot train speed and conditioning on the same day. In order to get faster, your central nervous system has to fully recover before each run. On “speed camp” days in my program (based on the teachings of Dale Baskett), we don’t run from drill to drill, there are no stations, and the longest exercise is 35 yards. Players will be well coached in technique with a focus on things many wouldn’t consider when it comes to sprinting- such as arm angle at the elbow, and eye discipline.

Technique is a huge component to running fast, along with genetics and programming. If players are exhausted they can’t get faster. When I train players for speed they’re well rested not just between exercises but also between reps. The improvement on the track is noticeable in mere weeks, and the transition on the football field takes a little longer but is really something that coaches can see in the matter of a month.

In the weight room

How do players get faster in the weight room? We squat, we deadlift, and we do unilateral training as well as flow yoga. Coach Radcliffe believes in flexibility of the hips (read more here). You get there via yoga and unilateral (one arm and/or one leg exercises) workouts. The olympic weightlifting programs and the world of powerlifting programs are important to build a foundation. However, I would much prefer snatch and clean and jerk (the Olympic lifts), deadlifts, front squats and overhead squats, and snatch balance over bench press and back squat.

Players need to be fast and that requires power production from your power angles. My ankles, knees and hips have to be powerful and create a force off the ground. Upper and lower body synchronization (also important in quarterback play), foot strike placement and stride length, and shoulder rotation speed are keys along with hip flexibility. I can create powerful hips and flexible hips by working on snatch, clean and jerk, unilateral lifts like one-leg RDL’s and one-leg split squats, and via yoga flow stretches like the 90-90.

The end game

At the end of the day I don’t want to train my athletes to practice for a conditioning test that doesn’t reflect the game of football. Chip Kelly didn’t use after practice wind sprints because the Ducks practiced so many reps at such a quick pace his players were conditioned for football, not long distance running. I believe in the same process. If I have to “condition” I’m doing it for football.

As a head coach if you want to condition for football, 110’s don’t make sense. Instead, our players will run four quarters of 15, 20-yard sprints. Each sprint has to be completed in three seconds, with 30 second breaks in between to get back to the starting line. Each quarter has a five minute water break for rest and recovery. With our goal being to get off 60 snaps on offense per game, we have to program and condition that way. However, these sprints are not a “barrier for entry.” Instead, the people who complete are rewarded and those who do not will finish the test.

Summary

If the end goal is to make the most athletic, best football players, and win the most games- the speed work done should reflect football as a football strength coach. Jeff Thomas is running 20 MPH, that’s fast, and now it’ll be Dan Enos’ job to get him the football in any way possible.