No Days Off: Jonathan Brooks on Training Russell Wilson Before He Became a Star

Russell Wilson has been doubted all his life. Everyone knows how 74 players were picked ahead of Seattle’s starting quarterback in the 2012 NFL Draft. But how about this: the national recruiting services Scout and Rivals both had Wilson as just a two-star recruit coming out of Collegiate School in Richmond, Virginia.

Less than eight years later and Wilson was starting in — and winning — a Super Bowl.

In between there was a lot of hard work. That’s where Jonathan Brooks comes in. Brooks is a performance coach at EXOS, where he has trained a number of NFL hopefuls and veterans over the last four years.

As a former player at the University of New Mexico, Brooks knows a little bit about what it takes to succeed on the gridiron. We recently caught up with him and got him to shed some secrets about what it’s like training Russell Wilson.

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What’s your average day like?
Jonathan Brooks: For guys that are already playing in the league, they’ll come in here about 9:30 and they’ll start prepping themselves and getting ready for the session that starts at 10. Getting here, going into the locker room to change their clothes, going to the nutrition center to get their shooters before the session starts and when they get up to our session at 10, they are going to start generally working some soft tissue. They’re going to start with some foam rollers and trigger points, working any tightness or sore spots that they have from the pervious day of training. Once our session starts at 10, we’ll go through more detailed work and that’s going to be some mobility or activation exercises followed by a movement prep. Once we get through that we’ll break down into a plyometric session where we’ll be working on a different emphasis depending on the day and the time of the year.

Through that plyometric session, they’ll be working on total body power, how to apply the force, the tension and unload and how to execute it and fire out of a position. From there we’ll break it down into a movement. On a typical Monday, we might exclusively work on acceleration mechanics. We’ll start with a general movement and progress to more specific [stuff] based on the time of year and how the guys are reacting and progressing from the exercise. After that, after we’ve developed that solid base for acceleration, we’ll apply a specific movement into their program that they would experience in that position that they play.

Does that differ between younger players getting ready for the draft and then older veterans?
JB: Yeah, definitely. It does differ from Combine to NFL vet training. Combine is specifically getting our athletes ready for Combine testing, which occurs in Indianapolis where they are testing in the 40, the broad, the vertical, the 225. So our training is just focused on those testing numbers. The vet program is more focused on prepping those athletes before they go to OTAs, before they attend camp.

Which veterans have you worked with?
JB: Russell Wilson. Josh Boyce, with Jimmy Garoppolo. Chase Rettig. Brandon Myers. Desmond Bryant. T.J. Ward. Eddie Pleasant. Matt Willis. Nat Berhe. Golden Tate. Those are the top ones.

That’s a wide range of positions. How do you cater a workout to all of their needs?
JB: We break them up towards positions, so I’ll have my quarterbacks in one group and they’ll be doing prehab exercises for the shoulder, for the rotator cuff, some different rotational exercises, some mobility exercises. Then we’ll have our receivers in a different area working on patterns and different areas that they need to be focused on. Before the sessions start, they’ll be separated into different groups. Based off of the size I have, we’ll address those needs accordingly. When we take it into a movement section, obviously all of the positions do some kind of accelerating so once we work on that component of the movement then I’ll separate the guys. I’ll have the receivers all in one area and they’ll be working on route running and getting off the line, in and out of breaks. I’ll have the quarterbacks doing a drill where they are backpedaling in their stance and then react off me to accelerate right through the line or accelerate and throw the ball. I’ll go ahead and make different scenarios up to correlate with what the movement is on that day.

With Russell Wilson, what is he typically trying to work on and improve?
JB: He’s trying to improve his overall health. He’s trying to improve his speed. He’s trying to improve his balance, his strength, his decision-making. I’m addressing those different characteristics that he’s looking to address. I’ll use different methods and schemes to help him apply those to his work.

There were a lot of question marks about his size. As an athlete, what sticks out about him?
JB: Definitely his heart for the game and his motivation to help others to keep working hard. He was always the first one ready for drills, always the first one back from water breaks. He was the one leading the other guys and helping to coach them. Just his heart and how he cares for others and making sure everyone’s getting the best work and making sure that everyone was involved.

Since the arm is so important to quarterbacks like Wilson, do you have to be careful with what drills or lifts or movements that you have them do?
JB: Depending on the exercise, I’ll go regress that exercise down into something that’s more compatible or a better exercise for a quarterback. Those guys are already super strong so I don’t need to focus on strength development. I can focus on awareness, stability, balance, deceleration mechanics. They are other aspects of training that I can focus on, rather than bench-pressing and overhead pressing.

When you mention balance, what are some things that you work on to improve that with Wilson and other quarterbacks?
JB: I work with stability lifts. I will also put them in different isometric positions and hold it and challenge them with their eyes being opened or closed. Maybe they’re going to be on one foot while I challenge them or have them be on one foot while I throw something at them and they catch it. Different drills along those lines.

What’s something that Wilson does that people would be surprised by? A drill that you guys do with him that people wouldn’t expect?
JB: We work a little bit of hand-eye coordination with him. Even though he’s not really catching footballs as a receiver would be, he still needs to be quick in identifying different schemes. They’ll be a variation of different drills where I’ll have multiple colors being thrown at him and he catches different colors that I call in the air. He might be facing me and I throw different cards at him and I’ll call different colors in the air and he has to catch that. It’s just based off of working reaction and alertness, getting him prepped for different schemes he’s going to be seeing, different types of defenses and blitz pickups that he’ll have to call and recognize.

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