FOXBOROUGH — It’s the hideous welcome that awaits NFL players returning for training camp. A formality for most, but one requiring tolerance of the sear of lactic acid buildup in the legs.
It’s the conditioning test.
“I’m here, so I guess I made it,” offensive tackle Marcus Cannon said Thursday after the first practice of camp.
The conditioning test is a series of runs players must complete under certain times, according to their positions. Individual coaches can alter the rules, requirements, and enforcements as they see fit, but generally passing the test is a prerequisite for participating in practices. For many players, especially the linemen, it looms in the mind as they get back to work after summer break.
Patriots Hall of Fame linebacker Tedy Bruschi wrote on Twitter last week that it’s “tops on the list for players as they report for training camp,” along with making weight.
“Sounds simple,” Bruschi wrote. “But tough for some. Once that’s done . . . You’re on to football.”
The Patriots test is a series of sprints with short breaks between to test recovery time and endurance, not just speed. Skill position players like receivers and defensive backs run the farthest, followed by tight ends and running backs and then the linemen.
“We’ll [skill position players] run 60 [yards] in eight seconds. Tight ends, running backs, they’ll run 50s in seven seconds and then linemen run 40s in like seven seconds,” cornerback Eric Rowe said. “It’s getting the same amount of work, and everybody’s still got to push, they’ve just got less yards. If you’ve been running it should be no problem.”
In 2015, then-Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount initially failed his conditioning test when he had to run 20 sprints of 50 yards, but only did 12 under the prescribed time, which, at that point, was eight seconds.
The Patriots are known across the NFL for the emphasis they place on conditioning. After practice Sunday, the team ran up and down the hill beside Gillette Stadium that connects one practice field to another, everyone hustling, right on down to the linemen. It’s a regular occurrence during camp and the regular season.
Other teams have different conditioning tests. The Ravens’ test — six 150-yard shuttle runs — is notoriously hard. In 2010, a disgruntled Albert Haynesworth couldn’t run the Redskins’ test of two 300-yard shuttles in 70 seconds or less with a 90-second rest in between. Haynesworth infamously completed his first run in time, but then decided to take an extended bathroom break, violating the requirement of only a short rest between runs. He tried again the next day and didn’t make time. The Steelers’ test is eight 100-yard sprints.
“If you can’t pass that, you deserve to be cut,” Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey told reporters Wednesday.
Most current Patriots who were asked agreed, saying that players who have been getting to the gym and following the team’s offseason workout plans or the instructions of a good personal trainer will have no problem.
“If you’re in shape, you’ll pass it, but if you know you haven’t ran all offseason [you’ll be nervous for it],” Rowe said. “I’ve seen guys fail, but it’s like they haven’t been working out. If you have been working out, you don’t have to really worry about that.”
Rowe said he’s seen skill position players struggle with their test just as often as he’s seen an offensive or defensive lineman huffing and puffing his way through. Linemen, though, are more likely to incorporate a few more runs here and there in their normal training ahead of camp because of the test, whereas others would be running anyway.
“Being in football condition is a little different because you’re in pads,” said left guard Joe Thuney. “It’s different than running sprints.”
Usually, if a player fails, they have to take the test again (and again) until they pass, and they’re held out of practices until that happens.
In 2015, Blount missed two days of training camp before passing his test and returning.
“Then you have to talk to Bill [Belichick], and he’ll decide that,” safety Duron Harmon said, asked what happens when a player fails. “If you can’t do it one day, obviously you have to go through some type of training to prepare you. You probably have to do it with the strength and conditioning staff so that they can get you to where you need to go. Hopefully, they can do that sooner rather than later so that you can pass and get to the practice field.”
Harmon said he’s never been stressed about a conditioning test because he’s always kept up with his training regimen, which includes a lot of running. If someone wanted to abolish it, though, he wouldn’t stand in their way.
“Do I really enjoy it? Not really,” he laughed.
Luckily for Harmon (and others), it’s over. At least until next year.