No Days Off: Roy Holmes on Maximizing Speed and Training Andrew Luck

As one of the top performance specialists at EXOS, where he’s trained names like Andrew Luck, LaMichael James, and Josh Robinson, and as a former strong safety at Northern Arizona, Roy Holmes is as qualified as anyone to talk about the NFL Combine. He’s trained No. 1 picks. He’s trained players with top 40-yard dash times. Over the past few years, his prints have been all over some of the top young players in the NFL.

At EXOS, six months of his year are dedicated to football. From January to March, it’s all about Combine development, and from June until almost August, he’ll train more football players getting ready for camp. Then in the winter, Holmes regroups and plans for the next year. It’s a never-ending process, but it’s one he loves.

“I want to help people perform at a higher level,” he says. “Every day is a challenge. You don’t know the mood your athletes are going to come in with. What type of programming or what type of new athletes are going to come in. Since I’ve been with EXOS I’ve had the opportunity to work with world-class soccer players, golfers, athletes from every different spectrums. It’s a cool little project every single time to be able to figure how to get someone performing at a higher level.”

With NFL training camps beginning, we recently caught up with the trainer to talk about how a player can maximize their speed, as well as what it was like to train Andrew Luck before he hit the big time.

*** *** ***

As far as speed, what are the key aspects to get faster and developing speed?
Roy Holmes: With speed development, a lot of it is knowing what you have. You have guys that are fast and then you have guys who have the potential of being fast. The things is you don’t want to just give them a speed program. A lot of things that we base our speed development off of are all our evaluations. What does a guy come in and test at: how high does he jump? How strong is he? Those are all components of speed. If I can determine how reactive or how strong a guy is going to be, or sometimes it just comes to the fact that a guy cannot put himself into the right angles. He needs to be able to be efficient enough to move and create the force and power that he needs to be fast or quicker, depending on if we’re talking about agility or straight-line speed.

It’s all individual-based. You have guys our there that can just blow the doors off people just naturally, just waking up in the morning. But my goal is how can I squeeze five to 10 percent more out of that guy and make sure he reaches his full potential. Then I have a guy that might not realize how fast he is just from the fact that he doesn’t understand how to drive force into the ground, how to drive his body, how to position himself in order to create vectors of velocity so he can be a faster athlete. My take on speed is it’s almost like designing a car. You start off with a lump of clay. Then you shave it down a little bit and take it on a test drive. If that doesn’t work, we need to create the angles. We need to make the frame a little bit more lighter. We need to make the engine stronger.

It’s a slow-cook process where you are just trying to get the best and most efficient results possible.

Who is the fastest athlete you’ve ever been around?
RH: I’ve been pretty fortunate to be around some pretty fast guys. My first full year coaching combine out the gate, I coached a kid named Josh Robinson. He’s a defensive back for the Minnesota Vikings now and a kid out of the University of Central Florida. He unofficially ran a 4.27. His official time was a 4.33. Out the gate, I had some pretty fast guys. That year I also had guys like Jarius Wright, LaMichael James, a kid named David Douglas, who is a kid to this day that still kind of haunts me. At the combine, he should’ve been a lot faster. I’ve seen 4.2s. I’ve seen consistent 4.3s.

I had a kid last year who just got drafted to the Baltimore Ravens. His name is Terrence Brooks and he ran the fastest time for safeties. He was unofficial in the 4.3 range and then officially 4.4. He ran a 4.38 and ended up being a 4.4 at the combine.

I didn’t train him the whole time but I did have the opportunity to work with him once he was a vet and drafted and put on a team, a kid named Reggie Dunn. He was clocked at almost a 4.1, 4.12. When you see fast guys, it doesn’t really look fast. But then you look and they are kind of in a different spot than any other person. It’s really cool to see.

When you say official versus unofficial, is that just the different between electronic and hand-timed?
RH: Correct. The way the combine does it is there are a couple of different timing systems. At each gate there’s a guy with a hand time. The official time is essentially a hand time but with a person triggering the electronic time. What that means is there is a guy at the start line and when he pushes a button, then that’s what triggers the time. Whenever the athlete passes that last gate, that’s typically what the official time is.

In the past, they’ve done an average between the hand time and electric time but what we’ve been told, or what we’ve heard, the official time is normally what the guy got on the actual gate at the combine.

You also trained Andrew Luck, right?
RH: I did. My first combine class was a pretty unique class. We had about 20 guys. Andrew Luck. LaMichael James. Josh was in that class. We also had a kid Ben Heenan, who ended up being the first overall pick for the CFL draft. My first year out of the gate we had the fastest guy at the combine and two No. 1 overall picks. That was pretty cool.

How did Luck’s physical tools differ if at all from other QBs you’ve worked with?
RH: We had a couple of other QBs there with us. There were guys that were better athletes. They could run around and do different things. But for a guy his size… When you’re younger and playing the game of football, certain guys you just perceived them as bigger than life. Andrew Luck when he walks into a room… if you were to say, okay that’s a quarterback over there! He looks like that. He has the height. He has the size.

But what’s crazy about him is that some quarterbacks don’t really listen because they don’t want their arm to be affected. The guy took off his shirt to do his body comp and he’s chiseled, and he’s an extremely cerebral athlete. I was actually kind of nervous to work with him at first because I didn’t know if he was going to be a primma donna guy. But he turned out to be one of the most amazing, most awesome kids I’ve ever had the fortune to work with.

He came in every day and showed up on time. If you told him to do extra work, he did extra work. He asked for extra work. He was really focused on all of the nuances. He wasn’t coming in like “I know I’m the No. 1 draft pick. I’m really not gonna work.” He came in like “I need to solidify my No. 1 overall draft prospects.” Awesome kid to be able to work with.

Did you think he would be this good this fast?
RH: I had seen him play at Stanford. I think it was against SC. A guy got an interception and he hit him. I was like okay. Then there were a couple of times where he ran and I was like okay, Andrew Luck is pretty fast for a quarterback. But it wasn’t until I actually saw him in person and saw him move, do the 40 work and then do all the different things we require our guys to do, I was like “oh my God, this guy is just a pure athlete.” Everyone tries to slot him, especially since he was in the same draft as RG3, they try to say, “Oh, RG3 was an athlete and Andrew Luck was more of the cerebral, typical drop-back passer.” I don’t really think there’s much of a difference between the two. I think they’re both phenomenal athletes and they are both very intelligent athletes as well.

Was there anything specific that you guys spent extra time on?
RH: At the facility, he would come in before the sessions and work a lot on his core strength. He wanted to work a lot on his shoulder strength, as well. He knew he had a strong arm but what he was looking at was the longevity of his career. If he could be structurally stronger then it would be a lot less stress on his body when he had to throw when has to throw the ball over and over and over again. It was more of the durability of it. He wanted to work on the small muscles in the rotator cuff and a lot of his core strength just to create more velocity. He also wanted to work on his timing, not necessarily his timing for throwing the ball to receivers but his timing as far as connecting his hips and shoulders together so he could add more velocity to his balls.

At all of our facilities, we have huge teams. We have physical therapists, quarterbacks coaches, speed and strength coaches, and everyone played a huge role. It wasn’t just me putting together the package and making sure Andrew had the best experience he could.

On the first day, how do evaluations work?
RH: What we’ve done over time is we’ve looked at it and asked what are the main things that we need to do to make an athlete perform at his highest level at the NFL combine. If a guy has an eight-week process, here’s where he’s coming in at and here’s where we’d like him to finish at. It depends on the position. Andrew is a quarterback so of course he’s not going to bench press at the combine so that wasn’t vitally important. But we knew upper body strength was a necessity in order to create more velocity with the ball. We have a set program for the majority of our guys and then once they test and evaluate, then we take that program and modify it toward their individual needs. Some guys are weight loss. Some might be weight gain. Some guys might be underpowered. Some might be overpowered. They go through a full physical therapy evaluation. They also go through a full movement screening, an upper body and lower body just to get a snapshot of how they move, and then we take them through a battery of tests that they’ll be required to perform at the combine. We’ll do their bench press tests, their vertical jump, their broad jump, their 5-10-5 work, their L drill, and their 60-yard shuttle just so we have a general overall view and a glance at what it is that this guy does, what we are starting with, and where we need to get him.

Sometimes I may have a phenomenal athlete where a guy is already fast but he doesn’t necessarily have the momentum or the mobility in order to create violent angles so he can change direction at a higher and more efficient level. Our evaluation will tell us a lot about that. As time goes on, as the guy starts gaining a little more mobility and stability, then he’ll be able to perform at a higher level.

What’s something about Andrew Luck as an athlete that most fans wouldn’t realize?
RH: Probably the best analogy is that he’s a hard-hat guy. He’s more of a blue collar, “Tell me what you want to do. I’m going to do it at a high level. Give me all the information that I need.” And if there’s any more information out there, he’s going to be the guy to go above and beyond and seek that information out. He’s a high competitor. Quarterbacks that I’ve trained in the past, they just accepted that they were quarterbacks: “I’m a quarterback and this is not something that I do well.” Andrew was like “Okay, all of these defensive backs and receivers are out here doing this drill. I want to be doing it too, and I want to show that I’m just as fast as them.” It was really cool and amazing to see just how high of a competitor that he was. He wasn’t afraid of anything.

How has combine training changed over the years and how will it change 20 years from now?
RH: I think as the hype grows around the draft – it’s a three-day process, four days with the red carpet – I think it’s of high importance for people like me and other trainers to put their best product out there. I think once the NFL starts to notice that a little bit more then they’ll kind of rearrange some of the scheduling pieces. As far as quality of care, what people are seeing is that, yes these guys are performing at a high level, but all of a sudden once they’re dialed in to a sound nutrition program and individual needs, you’re seeing these guys perform at levels no one could’ve imagined.

As the pendulum swings from old school box mentality, paralifter stuff, all of that can still be used, but as the pendulum swings, a lot of people are going toward more specialization. The higher-level guys don’t want to do what everyone else is doing. They’ll look at it like “that guy got these results doing this, so how can I get more by doing a little bit more over here?”

The guys like the Bradys and Mannings with personal trainers and with people delivering their food, I see it getting more and more specialized and creating this type-A personality with athletes that are really dialed into understand that in order to maximize their dollars and careers and longevity, they have to take care of their bodies. There will be more places and more specialists out there that guys can go to and there will be less of the larger box gyms.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney