Aug. 20, 1997
Terps' practices as simple as 1-2-3
By Paul McMullen, Baltimore SUN
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Hot dogs, apple pie and two-a-days. When it comes to American traditions, two sessions a day during preseason practice are woven into football's fabric. For at least two weeks, coaches drill their teams in the morning for as long as 2 1/2 hours, feed and send them off for a long summer's nap, then send them back to the field and do it again in the afternoon or evening.
Maryland's veterans were familiar with that rhythm, but first-year coach Ron Vanderlinden has introduced them to the joys of three-a-days. It's not as if Vanderlinden is pushing his players beyond normal limits. Fact is, the Terps might actually be spending less time on the field than they have in the past.
"Look at your normal time period in two-a-days," Vanderlinden said. "You'll practice up to 2 1/2 hours. Do that twice a day, and it comes out to five hours. Our sessions are done in 90 minutes, sometimes less."
The break between the first and second sessions is little more than an hour, what Vanderlinden calls "just a little more than a long halftime." He's already got the players out on the practice field. Why not just keep them there?
"I like the three-a-days because you're not out there for 2 1/2 hours in the heat," said defensive tackle Johnnie Hicks, a fifth-year senior from Harrisburg, Pa. "You know what it can get like around here in August. You get overloaded. It's easy to cramp up and lose your focus. When that happens, you're not going to be as productive.
"Another good thing is that there's a shorter break [than with two-a-days] before the last practice. When we used to have two-a-days, there were times when you would be away so long in the afternoon, you'd say, `I don't feel like going back down there.' "
Only a handful of college teams go with three-a-days.
John Cooper has done it for the past decade at Ohio State, but it isn't the only Big Ten school to use that format. Vanderlinden borrowed the concept from Northwestern, where he was assistant head coach for the previous five years.
Offensive coordinator Craig Johnson, who also came from Northwestern, is the only assistant familiar with three-a-days, and it was as big an adjustment for the staff as it was for the players.
"I've got a new offense, new players and a new format," said Mike Gundy, who coaches the wide receivers. "Whether it's two-a-days or three, it's always going to be tough for wide-outs. They're running so much, and when they cramp up, they're going to get tired."
As the day progresses, the focus shifts from the individual to the team. An offensive tackle will work on technique in the first session, refine his skills in seven-on-seven drills in the second, and deal with blitzing cornerbacks in a full scrimmage in the evening from 5 p.m. to 6: 30 p.m.
The break after the first practice gives the players enough time to put on fresh shorts, shirts and socks, get hydrated, snack on fruit, and put up their feet. After lunch, they've got all of two hours to rest. Before and after just about every activity, there are meetings.
"We meet before the first and third sessions," Vanderlinden said. "We lift weights after the third session, to let their appetite build back up. Then we meet again at 9 p.m. as a team. I discuss various team policies. There are numerous things to cover to bring the team dynamic together.
"Finally, they've got their free time. That's from 10 to 10: 45."