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Conditioning hits center stage with Haynesworth, Cody; plus your mail

The NFL really is amazing. Seemingly without fail, every couple weeks a new incident crops up that opens the eyes of the fans to a facet of the NFL that they don't know very much about. I consider it my job, in part, to fill in the blanks when such a situation arises, and this has been the week of the conditioning test.

First, Ravens rookie nose tackle Terrence Cody failed his test. Then he passed it, supposedly, but more on that later. Later, veteran Redskins defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth failed his -- twice -- albeit amidst some controversy.

Not every team has a conditioning test. In my seven NFL training camps, I believe I had to pass a test of physical condition at the start of camp three times and was exempted one or two other times because of my participation in the offseason program. Not every conditioning test is the same, mind you. The Patriots required their linemen to run two sets of 10 40-yard dashes in six seconds each. There was a 30 second break between each individual sprint and a three-minute rest period that broke up the two sets. It's considered a pretty tough test, but certainly doable if you have been working at it.

During my time in Buffalo, the big boys had to complete eight 68-yard dashes in 10 seconds, and though I don't recall the exact rest, I think it too was around 30 seconds between each sprint. This was not a terribly difficult test, so those who didn't pass it stuck out like a sore thumb.

The toughest tests for me personally were the two 300-yard shuttles that Haynesworth failed in Washington. Some teams, like those coached by Bill Parcells, run them in 50-yard intervals, while others reduce it to 25. The difficulty I typically had is that no matter what type of shape I was in from a cardiovascular standpoint, my legs would always start to give out and get wobbly during the second shuttle because of all the turns involved in a shuttle test, especially those of the 25-yard variety. It really fatigues the lower body, and the lactic acid starts to kick in because of the limited rest that is given.

That's why Haynesworth's now-infamous bathroom break skews the test. (And why the Redskins reportedly made him start from scratch after the mid-test lavatory trip.) I'm not denying that he had to use the restroom, but the extra rest time he got between sets would have allowed his legs to receive more time to recover -- pretty much defeating the whole purpose of the test.

The unfortunate part for Haynesworth -- especially now that he failed the test for a second consecutive day -- is that if he had attended a certain percentage of offseason workouts, he wouldn't have had to even take a conditioning test. There are a number of teams that reward players in such a manner.

Not every team is such a stickler when it comes to conditioning testing, though. Take the Cody situation in Baltimore, which potentially showcases another common trait of camp conditioning tests: the slow clock on the re-test. You see, teams don't really want their players, especially young ones like Cody, missing precious practice reps. When they rookies run the test the first day with their teammates, the coaches have no choice but to run the test on the up-and-up. If somebody is clearly lagging behind, it has to be a failed test.

The next day, however, when the re-test is given to just the player (or players) who failed, there is a strong tendency for those players to somehow miraculously find a way to pass the test. That's because the coaches can be, shall we say, liberal with the stopwatch. I'm not saying this is necessarily the case with Cody, but it was always funny to see guys pass the test the day after they failed it miserably when running with the full squad.

Besides, a guy like Cody wasn't drafted to run sprints anyway. He was brought in to clog up space in the middle and keep offensive linemen off the linebackers. The irony is that if a guy like Cody lost so much weight that he could pass the conditioning test with flying colors, it could have an adverse affect on the real job he was hired to do in the first place.

Ross, don't let this pass. Don't let e-mailers get away with misrepresenting the facts. At pretty well exactly the same age as Favre, and most certainly in one of his final five seasons, Jerry Rice attended camp, provided the leadership and inspiration for the Raiders, and turned in a 92-catch, 1,200 yard season. To suggest that if he was "any good" he'd have had leverage to miss camp is to insult a Hall of Fame player on any number of levels.-- Alastair, London, England

Good point. Rice was 40 when he had the season you mentioned for the Raiders in 2002.

Ross, you have an interesting perspective as a former player. That being said, I can't help but sense a certain bitterness in your articles. Just about all your pieces come off as negative with a certain "holier than thou" tone to them. Am I reading into it or are you seriously bitter about your experiences in the League?-- Ben, Colorado Springs, Colo.

I hadn't heard this before. Interesting. To answer your question, I am not bitter about my experience at all. I loved it, despite being released four times and traded once, which was tough. I wouldn't trade having my dream come true for the world. My dad is 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, so I never really thought I would make the NFL. I always considered myself to be just an enormous football fan, like you guys, who was extremely fortunate to be blessed with some of the natural gifts it takes to play at that level. That may be why you detect a certain tone when I write about players that clearly don't respect, adore and appreciate the game and the opportunity like I feel I did.

Ross, I love your column, but you're a moron. The first half of your article is right on ("Why Bryant is right"), the second half reeks of frat-boy stupidity. Granted, I've never played in the NFL, but as a professional in another field, here's what I know: I fully support your position that rookies have to earn their stripes and should show veterans some respect (not that Roy Williams deserves much in my mind). But what that has to do with getting breakfast burritos and carrying pads is beyond me.

Here's a young man competing for a job, acting professionally and working hard. The fact that he refused to participate in some juvenile traditions speaks volumes to me about his ability to be a "professional" and use his brain. Hazing is a stupid thing on any level, but I think there is pretty wide agreement that while it may be passable conduct in college, that once you enter the real world as an adult it should be inappropriate. The fact that it lingers in the NFL is a sad commentary on the maturity of its players. The fact that you defend these traditions is equally unfortunate. -- Kathleen, Washington, D.C.

So having a guy carry pads off of the practice field is horribly stupid, but you calling me a name in the first sentence of your e-mail is professional? I think you make some valid points, but perhaps I see it differently because I was actually part of that tradition and culture and found it to be both harmless and good-natured.

Do rookie sportswriters have to type up articles for veteran sportswriters?-- Earl Mitchell, Hayward, Calif.

No, but I did have to do most of the driving during my training camp tour with Peter King last year.

Hey Ross, since you're an O-lineman, how do you see the Giants potential O-line shuffle shaking out?-- HeadieA @SI_RossTucker

I see no shuffle. I think opening day against Carolina you will still see the same five guys at the same five spots as you have seen for the majority of the snaps the last three years.

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