- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Mike Blasquez saw the smile and the confidence after workouts concluded. Every day, Blasquez had his core group of NFL players who were training at the University of California compete at the end of training sessions.
Sometimes it would be speed work. Other times, sit-ups or pull-ups with a chain attached. When other players in the group won, they spoke up and bragged.
When Jeremy Ross won, he didn't. He just smiled. It was all he needed to do. This was part of a grander goal, anyway.
Ross never verbalized his intentions during this offseason in Berkeley, California. He never needed to. Everything he did, everything he indirectly said, tunneled into the same vision. The same focus. Ross received his opening last season with the Detroit Lions as a kick and punt returner.
Now he wanted more.
"I don't want to just be a returner. I don't want to be that guy in the league that just knows how to return," Ross told ESPN.com. "I want to be a dangerous wide receiver as well as a dangerous returner.
"...People do want a good returner, but I want to be more than that. I want to offer more to a team than just returns."
His emergence began in the second half of the 2013 season. Detroit pulled Ross off its practice squad after signing him following his release from Green Bay. The Lions made him their returner, replacing Micheal Spurlock. Injuries to Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles opened up infrequent opportunities at slot receiver, where he had two carries for 40 yards and five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown.
It awakened a realization he needed to diversify his game for 2014, both to secure a roster spot and prolong his career. To do that, he restructured his offseason.
He focused on three key areas: Speed and agility training with Blasquez, the director of the strength and conditioning program at his alma mater, California; a specialized nutrition program organized by Mike Hughes, who runs Baci Café in Danville, California and time at Real People Pilates taking private classes with Joseph Quinn in Berkeley.
It began with nutrition. Blasquez introduced Ross and Hughes as part of a preparation to change Ross' body composition. Two weeks before he began his five-day-a-week training program over 12 weeks with Blasquez, Ross and Hughes communicated through text and email about foods Ross preferred. Unlike other Hughes and Blasquez clients, Ross had no specifications on what he would or wouldn't eat.
With instructions from Blasquez and information from Ross, Hughes developed a specialty 2,700-calorie daily diet. Each meal -- breakfast, lunch, dinner and a morning and afternoon snack to keep energy up -- was specially prepared. On Feb. 12, his breakfast had 669 calories, a bison burger lunch had 441 calories, chicken and quinoa pasta dinner with 1,035 calories and the two snacks combined for 602 calories. Together it had a 42 percent carbohydrate, 28 percent fat and 29 percent protein breakdown in the 2,748 calories.
Each day had similar consistency. Meals were delivered directly to Ross at the Cal training facility every three days. Then Ross transported them home in an ice chest.
"We really made it easy for them," Blasquez said. "So when the best possible solution for them nutritionally is also the easiest, then things work out. That provided a great resource for him.
"As soon as we got him going in that program for a couple weeks, we really started to see his body slim down and his energy levels were great and his body composition was moving in the right direction."
This opened up even more possibilities for Ross and Blasquez. The workouts focused on pelvic and body control as much as strength and speed. Having more hip control, Ross accelerated and decelerated in-and-out of cuts and breaks quicker in returns and routes.
It led to sharper moves. This became paramount as Ross saw chances to move both inside and outside this fall at receiver, along with his returning duties. As the nutrition took hold, Blasquez and Ross progressed the training from typical offseason work to change-of-direction, footwork and speed work throughout the three months.
"We really took the time to develop his form and hit the shifts strong," Blasquez said. "We really worked on the fundamental strength and movement of the position. We really broke everything down and developed his strength there first.
"Then, as we moved to the change of direction drills, he was just so strong and his ability to aggressively decelerate and stick his foot in the ground and then accelerate with good power was pretty impressive."
The mid-morning workouts had a mirror effect during the five days.
The group had acceleration Mondays with plyometrics and lower body strengthening. Tuesdays were general agility with change of direction, conditioning and upper body work. Wednesday regenerated their bodies with pool training, foam-rolling and stretching. Thursday combined straight running and lower-body weights. Fridays targeted position-specific agility work with upper-body work to increase work capacity.
"I definitely want to better myself as a wide receiver," Ross said. "Working on specific things just to help myself be in the best shape that I can. Be as strong as I can, getting better at some of my weaknesses but really strengthening my strengths a lot as well so I can use them out here.
"I've been trying to use my strengths a lot to my advantage."
To maximize strengths, Ross added the third part of his training -- pilates. As he beat his body up with Blasquez and fed it appropriately due to Hughes, he entrusted Quinn with replenishment, flexibility and stretching.
The pilates work was less regimented than his time with Blasquez. Ross, though, wanted to learn about the healing effects of pilates and how he could use it to bolster his changing body.
The routines gave him a stronger core base. This allowed the pelvis -- where Blasquez and Ross focused part of his offseason plan -- to move freer and with more internal control. The movements allowed Ross to connect with his body's motions and signals on a deeper level.
"He was becoming aware of the finer pieces of his body that he can control more," Quinn said. "Make no qualms about it, his body is his moneymaker. That's how he's getting paid.
"So OK, that's how you're getting paid, you probably want to know as much about it as possible."
This included learning about muscles like the iliopsoas group connecting the spine, hip and femur that he didn't know existed before. By the time he finished working with Quinn, he discovered "precision" muscles, as Quinn called them, that helped strengthen his body and turned him into an even better athlete.
Ross worked on a machine shaped like an eight-foot bed with pulleys, posts and a moveable plank called the reformer. It would work that way in more ways than one. Quinn instructed the movements, usually in groups of three or five, all in an effort to increase the receiver's flexibility and muscle coordination.
"I wanted to be strong in my core," Ross said. "I wanted to be strong while flexible, being able to work on certain parts of my body, like flexibility. The pilates provides, it gives you length of being strong while being long."
Strong and long is how Ross hopes to play this fall, where everything he changed over his three months in California focused toward. Jeremy Ross is already a returner, turning into one of the better ones in the NFC.
Now he wants to be much more.