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Warren Anderson – Rehab Plus/MakePlays

October 13, 2011

Warren Anderson, President – Rehab Plus/Makeplays.com (April 1,  2011):

First, can you let readers know how you got started in sports training and offer any advice for those that would like to do the same?

To make a long story short, I was coaching in the old USFL, starting in 1983 with the Chicago Blitz and Hall of Fame coach George Allen, the next year they moved our franchise to Arizona.  In 1985 we became the Arizona Outlaws and were coached by Western PA native and ex-Arizona State coach Frank Kush.  

When the league went under in 1985 I started working in physical therapy with Coach Kush’s brother Steve.  At the same time Coach Allen’s son Bruce became a sports agent and I began working with him as well.  Bruce (currently the GM with the Washington Redskins) and I started the first NFL combine training camp in 1985 as a way to add a competitive advantage for agent services.  We kind of merged all our services into a physical therapy/sports training facility and moved forward.  In 1988  I opened my own
physical therapy/sports training facility, and we’ve grown and diversified over the years.

You focus a lot on combine training for players looking to get into the NFL. While so much emphasis is on physical training, how do you prepare players mentally for the litany of Questions and pressures that occur at the combine and in the NFL?

The combine was originally created to bring the top prospects together at one spot and conduct medical exams and physicals.  It quickly morphed into all the physical testing, i.e. “measurables” and interviews and position drills. etc.  

Today the combine is another venue for the league to broadcast, hype, “sell their product”.   That being said, for most coaches and gm’s the combine is their first opportunity to see the new prospects “on the hoof”, get to meet with them, watch them move around and do some athletic things.  Still today, the medical exams remain one of the most important aspects of the combine.

The interview process has taken on added importance and most prospects will be well versed on this component as well as the physical testing component.  The combine is an intense, pressure filled event for the players, and, given these circumstances, allows teams to observe how the player handles the environment.  We just want to have our players thoroughly prepared for every component and understand they may have to “adjust on the run”.  

For example if a team wants to send a player off for an MRI it may alter his schedule some, and the player has to adapt to that.  We like to use the adage “be intense but not tense” when dealing with all the pressures of the combine.

Do players often find the mental aspect of the game and combine more difficult than the physical demands of the game, in your opinion? How do you work with them to improve their mental approach to the game? What techniques do you use?

In regards to the combine, the mental pressures are definitely more of a concern to players.  

Candidly, most of the players in this era have been doing all the “measurables” since they were attending high school combines.  The tests like the short shuttle and 3 cone are learned skills that aren’t that difficult.  Speed can be improved, but at the end of the day, the evaluations are going to go back to game tape.  

The evaluation BEGINS with the tape and ENDS with the tape, all the other things help fill in the blanks.  In my opinion, one of the biggest misconception players have is that if they blow away all the combine tests they’re going to be a high pick.  We’ve had kids call us before the season wanting to know about getting ready for the combine, we just tell them they better worry about making plays on the field because that is going to get them drafted well before what they look like running around in their underwear.

Continuing on with preparing players mentally/psychologically for the NFL game and combine – how much do you alter your techniques and approach depending on the position an athlete plays- and how so?

In recent years, more facilities and agents are bringing in position coaches to work with prospects preparing for the draft.  In my opinion, this is one of the smartest thing a young prospect can have available to him.

After the draft, all these rookies are going to have to perform on the field, and understand it is their ability to make plays and DO THEIR JOB that coaches care about.   We’re very fortunate to work with some great coaches.  

Rod Dowhower, who was an OC and QB coach for 25 years in the NFL, is unbelievably good in working with young QBs.  An old Pittsburgh Steeler, Andre Hastings, works with wide receivers.  Dre is a wealth of knowledge that is put from a players perspective.  Dre has no patience for anything less than 100% and he’ll let them know.  

Doug Plank, a Western PA guy who played with the Chicago Bears ( the 46 defense was named after him) and has coached most recently with the Jets, is fabulous with secondary players.  Position coaches like this can prepare the player for what he will incur at the combine, but more importantly, have an understanding of what it takes to play in the National Football League.

What do you find are the biggest misperceptions most of these players have when they first start working with you?

As I stated earlier, I think the biggest misconception is that how they perform in the “measurables” will make or break their draft status.  Especially offensive lineman.  We always use the saying “you gotta know who you are”.  

A kid with a late round or free agent grade, for example, has to understand that the measurables may have more relevance to him because, if he tests well it is an impetus to go back and look at some more tape,  Again, the game tape is the critical factor.

What’s the toughest adjustment for college players coming into the NFL – both physically and psychologically?

In my opinion, the biggest adjustment for young guys is to understand the National Football League is all business.  “No more marching bands or cheeleaders”.  

You better have a thorough understanding going in you are trying to take someone’s job and livelihood away from them and the body of work you produce on a daily basis will be evaluated and scrutinized.  I think the complexity of the NFL game is different for some players, and they have to understand they must have the ability to process information quickly then translate that information into physical execution.  

The length of the season is tough on young guys too, when they’re used to their college season ending, the NFL is just starting to kick into high gear.  

Is there a worry on your part that the pre-combine preparation you give to players won’t “stick” once their training with you ends? How do you help prevent that from happening?

Working with prospects prior to the draft, you just try and educate them on the process.  From bowl games (senior bowl, etc.) to the combine, to pro day, to visits with teams, to the draft, then you get to your team and the real work starts.  

You better keep yourself in great physical condition all the way through, keep working on your skills, until you get to a team.  The team you end up with will train you and coach you the way they see fit.  

Have you worked with athletes that are resistant to the process or your specific techniques? How do you handle those circumstances if so?

Through the years we really haven’t had any players that were resistant to anything.   All the kids we’ve been fortunate enough to work with just want to get better and insure themselves they’ve done everything possible to give themselves the best chance to play in the National Football League.

What do you think would surprise readers most about the athletes and pre-combine process?

With the NFL Network and all the media coverage I don’t know if too much would surprise your readers.  

One thing I have found kind of disturbing is some players go to facilities with the sole purpose of improving their 40 or whatever, and neglect their position skill work.  We’ve had a number of quarterbacks in recent years, and quarterbacks are basically evaluated on their ability to throw the football effectively.  

Especially with QB’s who have played in a spread type offense, their ability to learn the proper footwork in the 3,5,7 step drops, for example, are of much more relevance than what their broad jump, for example, is.

For Pittsburgh fans here – have you worked with any Pitt players and/or players that have gone on to become Steelers? If so, who, and without getting into any issues of confidentiality, how were they to work with?

We have a long and very fond relationship with Pittsburgh.  

Starting back in the 80’s we had Pitt players like Tony Woods (DE), Craig “Ironhead” Heyward (RB), Alex Van Pelt (QB) , Bob Buckowski (DE) to name a few.  One of my real good buddies is Eric Metz who is from Monroeville and is a prominent NFL agent.  

I mentioned Andre Hastings, former Steeler WR who resides out here in Phoenix and helps us out with football training.  Dre also has a real successful dog training business which is really his passion.  Back in 2001 we worked a project at UPMC in conjunction with SFX sports to do some combine training.  That was a ton of fun and we had some good players in Pittsburgh training with us, Deuce McAllister , Justin Smith, Chris Chambers, Matt Light to name a few.  

Brett Kiesel who presently plays with the Steelers trained with us.  What a great guy.  Brett had a great story coming out, you just knew he was a tough guy that wouldn’t be denied, plus he had really good athletic ability.  Jeff Otah who played at Pitt and is currently with the Carolina Panthers is out here in Phoenix rehabbing a shoulder with us.  Jeff is getting in a ton of strength and conditioning work at the same time.  He’s working real hard and looking forward to getting back on the field next year.  

On a sad note, one of my good buddies was Tony Brown, who played OT at Pitt in the 80’s.  Tony passed away from cancer last June.  He was one of a kind.  

Last thoughts?  

Young high school players keep working on your skill sets as well as your strength,speed, re-direction skills, etc.  Be an athlete.  And if you’d like, feel free to drop a note to our website: www.makeplays.com.  

Thanks Ron.

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