- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- NFL players are creatures of habit.
Even though league owners and the NFLPA look to be making progress towards a new collective bargaining agreement, players have already lined up contingency plans in the event team facilities are closed for business due to a lockout.
"I always start training around the same time every year," Bears linebacker Nick Roach told ESPNChicago.com. "I'll probably do the same thing this year and pace myself because you never know when something with the labor situation could get worked out."
Roach was one of the first players to report to Halas Hall and begin offseason workouts last offseason, but this year he plans to train with the TCBOOST group based out of Northbrook, Ill.
Founded by former NFL fullback and Northwestern star Bob Christian and his brother Tommy, who also played linebacker at Northwestern, TCBOOST boasts a list of clientele that includes Bears players such as Roach, Olin Kreutz, Roberto Garza and Corey Wootton, plus Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall.
"We have put a plan in place to accommodate a larger groups of athletes and map out an entire offseason plan if it comes to that," Tommy Christian said.
According to TCBOOST's mission statement, the goal of the company is to increase speed, strength and overall athleticism with measurable results. But Christian was quick to praise the work of Bears director of physical development Rusty Jones and the entire training staff who oversee the teams strength, conditioning, nutrition and rehabilitation programs.
"I recognize from a team perspective the importance of [the teams] having oversight of what guys are doing," Tommy Christian said. "My feeling is we compliment what the teams are doing with their strength coaches, rather than duplicate something that they are doing. There is always a potential to step on toes, and that's something we really try not to do. It's very important we understand, when we work with players, what they are doing so we make sure not to do something that will double-up on something and cause an overtraining situation, which could cause an injury.
"When Roberto Garza first started working with us, we had a handful of workouts together, and he came in one day all excited because his offensive line coach had really noticed a difference in the way he was moving. I think teams would be pleased with the outcome of our workouts. But we definitely don't want to compete with NFL strength coaches."
Besides helping Garza gain foot speed, TCBOOST played a role in Kreutz's offseason rehab from Achilles surgery. Despite being forced to miss most of the Bears offseason workouts, the veteran center started all 16 regular season games and both playoff contests in the 2010 campaign.
"As soon as soon as he [Kreutz] was able to start working out, we started working together and laying out the gradual progression for him that would ideally get him back as soon as possible before training camp," Christian said. "He continued to improve in the season, but it was a tight schedule to get him 100 percent, and if you saw him at training camp, he still had a little hitch in his step. But it went away as the season went on, and he continues to come in during the season on the off day and do work with us."
But not all Bears players will opt to remain in the area to train in the event of a prolonged work stoppage.
Fourth-year cornerback Zack Bowman left the state weeks ago to begin preparing for he considers the most important year of his NFL career.
The defensive back has spent the last few weeks at the Plex training facility in Houston, the same place where Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley -- the potential No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft -- prepared and fine tuned his skills prior the NFL Combine, just like Bowman did three years ago. The preference, of course, would be for players to go through offseason workouts, minicamps and OTAs at Halas Hall, but if the lockout prevents that from happening, Bowman is confident he will be physically ready to compete in 2011.
"I've been working with the same guy since I came out of Nebraska and started training for the NFL Combine," Bowman told ESPNChicago.com. "We have a good relationship, he does a good job and my agency [Select Sports Group] they take care of everything, so I might as well come down here. I train at this facility every offseason, plus, I came back every summer to workout during that dead period before training camp.
"There are a bunch of players down here training right now. Guys are coming in slowly but surely, but they usually have 12 to 15 players come in every day to train."
While TCBOOST currently operates independently from NFL teams -- the group does have a strong relationship with the Northwestern football program -- Plex handles numerous workman's comp cases for several NFL organizations, including the St. Louis Rams, who are expected to send five players down to Houston next week to rehab.
In fact, the Bears would probably encourage players to spend time at facilities like Plex if Halas Hall is closed.
"Jerry Angelo and I speak a couple of times every year," Plex founder Danny Arnold said. "We have a good relationship and he understands our philosophy and we're on the same page. Hopefully, via word of mouth with the players, I'll get to work with even more Bears in the offseason if a lockout occurs.
"What most teams want, is to not get my player hurt. They know that about us, that we're more inclined to get them healthier. These guys are pretty good machines already, you just have to fine tune them and get them back being healthy. If you've done that, that's a tremendous accomplishment. We're not a heavy iron type place. What you find here is a lot of bags, football equipment, dummies, sleds, just like a training facility for the teams."
According to Arnold, Plex hires former players and coaches to work with clients on technique and football skills during the training sessions. Roughly 20 to 25 current NFL players report to the facility on a daily basis, many of them with Pro Bowl credentials, including Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, who spends a portion of his offseason training at Plex every year.
"We built this facility around the athlete," Arnold said. "From Day 1, we always had athletic trainers, physical therapists, performance coaches and the nutritional side. When a player comes in here, just like when they go to their team facilities, it's a one-stop shop."
"We got a few places to work out up there, but most of the guys talk about coming back down to Houston," Bowman said. "All you have to pay for is lodging, so I might as well come back here and train and get some good work in. I can train twice a day and do other things in addition to the weight lifting and the running. This is where I come right before training camp starts. The weather is great. You can train outdoors and indoors, so every year this is where I come and they do a great job. It's always busy.
Some players, however, remain undecided about their offseason plans if forced to workout away from Halas Hall.
"I'm going to training down here in Texas, but I haven't found the place I'm going to workout at yet," Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie told ESPNChicago.com. "But being a quarterback, there isn't much speed training involved, more just workouts and throwing to guys. As long as I can find people to throw with, I'm good.
"But the lockout is a concern because you're worried about guys not being in shape. Also, at the team facilities, you build a lot of camaraderie being together up there and working out together. But there aren't really huge gains made in the offseason stuff, I think mainly guys get just get back and run to get in shape. The football stuff is what's good, because we get to throw passes to our guys and run our routes. That's what we are really going to miss.
"That's the worst."
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