It’s a long and tough road to get to the NFL for most players, but it might be an even more difficult task to get yourself mentally and physically “Ready To Play” in the NFL week in and week out. As we work our way towards the start of the NFL season, we’re speaking with a different NFL player each week and getting a first-hand account from them on how they get themselves ready for all of the rigors that come with competing at the NFL level. Here’s Minnesota Vikings tight end David Morgan, discussing how he gets “Ready To Play.”
Being available, being healthy, having your body in the right state is the biggest thing for being ready to play in the NFL. There’s a balance between pushing yourself and working hard and also making sure that you’re not overworking or overexerting yourself that you need to find as an NFL player. That balance is what I was working to find during my rookie year.
The biggest piece of advice that the veterans on the team gave me as I entered my rookie season was to listen to my body. The saying goes that you know you’re own body better than anybody. So, when something’s going on, you know how you feel. If you’re in the weight room or working out and something’s not feeling right, don’t push yourself past the limit and towards an injury.
Playing in the NFL, you’re diet is almost automatically a lot better than it would be if you weren’t. You’re exposed to more resources and dieticians. For me, it starts with breakfast in the morning that will include a variety of different foods like scrambled eggs, protein pancakes or waffles, and some kind of protein, whether it’s sausage, turkey sausage, bacon or turkey bacon. For lunch and dinner, it’s a similar type of setup where the people at the facility will prepare a variety of different foods. I’ll mostly stick with some kind of protein, either beef, chicken or fish, and then some kind of carbs. They have various pastas, rices, etc. along with a massive salad bar and I make sure to keep a pretty well balanced diet. There aren’t any foods that I really avoid, I know some guys have different things they stay away from, but I try and keep everything in my diet.
The biggest adjustment for me from college to the NFL in terms of training was the amount of down time I had during the offseason. We were done on New Year’s Day and then we had about four months off until the middle of April. Everybody was telling me to just take that time and use it to allow my body to completely recover. They told me that they understood it would feel weird not to be doing anything, but take that first month of the offseason off and get healthy.
It was different for me, but I did what the guys said and took that time to myself back in Texas just golfing, fishing and doing things that I wanted to do. That was huge because your rookie year in the NFL really is a grind. You go whatever all-star game you play in following the college season to the combine, then to mini-camp, training camp, four preseason games and then 16 regular season games. That’s why that month that I took off following the season was so big for me. It allowed me to recover and once I did get back to training this year, I felt great.
When it comes to training, as a tight end, I have to combine aspects of multiple positions. In today’s NFL, tight ends are more and more utilized in the passing game so you have to be able to play like a wide receiver while also being able to block a defensive lineman or linebacker alongside the offensive line. So, for me, I have to work on both the speed and agility drills that the receivers do and the power drills that the linemen do.
For me, I think the most important part of the body for any football player is having a solid lower base. Your legs and core and having a good, low center of gravity is key for any position, but especially at tight end when it comes to blocking and being able to sustain blocks.
The other aspect of the game that you hear about all the time is the mental one, players learning the playbook. That was a big curve for me during my first year because in college, you really learn one, maybe two systems. I was lucky in that I had the same coaching staff pretty much my entire college career, so I was able to play in a system for five years and know it inside and out.
Then, going into the NFL, you have a completely new verbiage for route concepts. In football, there’s certain words that are used for different things and the biggest thing is taking words that you used to use for one concept and now have them mean something completely different is tough. My first year, I was never not in the play book.
The way that I help myself learn the playbook was, I had a dry-erase board and I would look up a play, draw it on the board and then I looked in my playbook to see if that’s how it was done. If it was, I crossed that play off, if it wasn’t I would go back to it. In addition, I had note cards, just different little ways to get it into my brain. But, that’s only half the work, because then it goes from learning it in the playbook to actually going out on the field.
The playbook is just a bunch of straight lines. There’s no defense, there’s nobody out there flying around trying to rip your head off. So, it goes from learning it in the playbook to translating it to the field. Then, there’s the film room where you can review how everything looks in totality on the field and correct your mistakes while seeing how everything works together.
The final part of being ready to play is the pre-game music that you listen to. For me, I love electronic music, just hard, electronic music that gets me pumped up for the game. So, it’s either that or hip hop that I’ll play before a game in order to get ready to go.