Concern over player fitness elevated with labor deal looming

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev. -- With the NFL lockout seemingly nearing its end and everyone poised to return to work within the next week or so, players' fitness has become a concern.

One veteran player at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship told me that even though his team held offseason workouts, he's not sure every player is in football shape -- or even poised to handle some of the physical stress of training camp, which could start just days after a new collective bargaining agreement is ratified.

Signs point to a deal between players and league owners being finalized within a week.

Some coaches also said they don't expect everyone to be in shape and that they're unsure of how hard they can work players in the early stages of camp.

"You're going to have to go in stages," Chiefs coach Todd Haley said. "We're going to have to have a re-evaluation of our team from a coaching standpoint, evaluate where we are physically. If you have 10 guys in great shape, 10 that aren't and 10 that are so-so, you're going to have issues."

A few personal trainers who have worked with players throughout the lockout said they expect some less-diligent players to cram in training courses this week to, at the very least, get up to the same speed as other players who've steadily conditioned. Some coaches, general managers and personal trainers, in particular, said they're fearful that some players could resort to using rapid weight-loss treatments or diuretics that could put their health at risk.

Muscle pulls and other soft tissue-type injuries are expected, even from players who consistently trained, several coaches said, as did some of the personal trainers. There's simply no way to properly replicate the offseason training that teams conduct with players, especially since some of the drills and strength-and-conditioning plans are position specific.

Over the past few weeks, multiple coaches and GMs have said they hope players can report to team facilities immediately after a new CBA is ratified so their weight, health and fitness can be gauged. It's unknown how soon players will be able to report once a deal is struck, but some coaches said they hope they don't have to wait several days before receiving the chance to not only administer physicals but also get players in the film and meeting rooms.

Teams also want to see if injured players have properly rehabilitated, and if not, what type of rehab and treatments are needed. One GM, whose team has several players coming off surgical procedures, said his team could be at a competitive disadvantage because the medical staff hasn't been able to track players' status during the lockout.

If some of those players have suffered setbacks or sprouted new injuries during their rehab, their ability to contribute could be compromised, he said. This GM was one of a handful who said he's also prepared for surprise injuries and unforeseen conditions that no one will know about until players report.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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