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Weight And See

Posted May 14, 2009

No matter the player, Lott makes sure pounds match the game

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had trimmed down by the 2008 Super Bowl, compared to 2007 -- like the game against Cincinnati.


John Lott goes to a back room to pull out the photo of Larry Fitzgerald, depicting Fitz running downfield during one of his pre-2009 Pro Bowl appearances.

At first, you don’t expect to be able to see what the Cardinals strength and conditioning coach sees in the photo. While Lott is bringing it out, you note to yourself you have seen Fitzgerald dozens of times since he came into the NFL and he always came across as a well-proportioned athlete and the definition of what a wide receiver should look like. You knew Fitz lost a little weight before the 2008 season, but to be able to tell?

Then Lott shows the photo, and yes, you see it. Lott points out thicker arms that needed sculpting. Instead, you notice first the thighs and upper legs. Clearly, Fitzgerald has streamlined.

“Fitzy goes from (2)30 (pounds) to about (2)13, he lost 15-plus, and you saw a little difference,” Lott says, and after Fitzgerald’s spectacular 2008 season – one in which Fitzgerald seemed to get better in the playoffs despite the wear of four extra games – it feels like an understatement.

Player weights are a big topic of the offseason. They move back into the spotlight next week, when voluntary organized team activities begin, the rookie class returns, and Lott begins his long-term eyeball test of what weights at which the newcomers should play.

Rookies run a 300-yard shuttle on the first day, to create a conditioning baseline. And then Lott will run them through OTAs and then another month after veterans leave, and eventually, he, coach Ken Whisenhunt and the coaching staff come up with a player’s preferred weight.

“Honestly,” Lott acknowledges, “there is no science to it immediately.”

Instead, his weight calls are a mixture of a player’s results during workouts and Lott’s own lengthy background. He looks at a guy like first-round pick Beanie Wells and thinks, “You’re not 243, not in my mind.” Wells reminds Lott of long-time NFL running back Antowain Smith, whom Lott coached at the University of Houston. Smith played in the mid-220s. That’s Lott’s first guestimate for Wells, although it’s much too early to make any determinations (and Wells, of course, can’t come back to Arizona until mid-June, pushing him further back).

The weight premise is simple: Your body is your body and can only carry so much weight. After that, the pounds just get in the way. Lott said Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis, another one-time University of Houston product whom Lott knew, had a saying: “Don’t let it be something you didn’t do to cause you to fail.” To Lott, that includes extra weight. It might not automatically make one a better football player, but it is a little detail players can control.

And in the end, it might make him better.

Nose tackle Gabe Watson was once about 374 pounds; he plays at 332 now and both Lott and Watson have talked about Watson dropping into the 320s. Running back Tim Hightower was about 235 and shed about 10 or 12 pounds. Anquan Boldin went from around 230 at one point to 218.

Then there was Warner and Fitzgerald. Warner, the established quarterback and “great athlete” as Lott called him, dropped between 10 and 15 pounds from his 225-pound frame to become more elusive in the pocket. Warner still took his share of hits, but he managed to post one of his best seasons ever. Fitzgerald’s top-end speed was questioned by many, and yet, there he was, ripping up the yardage at the end of the Super Bowl, sprinting for the go-ahead touchdown.

“If Coach thinks it will help me be great, I’ll do whatever,” Fitzgerald said. “I just want to be a special player. If it means I need to lose 10 pounds, great, if it means I need to gain 10 pounds, great.

“For my position, it’s more important for me to be agile, flexible, durable and be able to run all day, rather than (bulking up for) brute force.”

When the team’s stars buy into the concept – and there seem to be tangible results – that can only help the program.

At one point, Lott jokes about his weight-at-first-sight approach, noting he could “work in a circus.”

Mostly, though, the subject is a serious one.

“Put on a few pounds and people say, ‘What’s the big deal?’ ” Lott said. “Nothing, if you are a banker or flipping burgers or trying to sell insurance. You just get a bigger pair of pants.

“But in the NFL, it gets coaches fired. And gets players cut.”

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