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Shockey, James among standouts in Miami

Giants coach Tom Coughlin is the king of making voluntary offseason workouts mandatory.

However, an interesting thing happened in the kingdom this spring. Tight end Jeremy Shockey has spent more time working out at the University of Miami than at Giants Stadium and, maybe begrudgingly, Coughlin is all right with it. No, Coughlin isn't weakening. It's a trust thing. Coughlin wants Shockey to do everything possible to return to his 2002 Pro Bowl level.


If it works, Coughlin will make this one exception for the good of the team. The Colts do basically the same thing with halfback Edgerrin James. As much as coach Tony Dungy and general manager Bill Polian want James in Indianapolis for the 14 weeks of offseason training, they know James does his best preparation for the season in Miami. There is trust involved, and James has delivered.

The University of Miami has enhanced NFL teams' chances for success with 20 first-round selections in the past five years, but what's happening during the offseason is also becoming a special story. From 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET on weekdays, Hurricanes strength coach Andreu Swasey trains 17 to 20 players who could fill out a Pro Bowl roster.

The names are as flashy as the $50,000 to $150,000 cars they drive to the campus. Regulars include James, Shockey, Reggie Wayne of the Colts, Ed Reed of the Ravens, Duane Starks of the Patriots, Jonathan Vilma of the Jets, Javon Walker and Bubba Franks of the Packers, Plaxico Burress and William Joseph of the Giants, Jerome McDougle of the Eagles, Willis McGahee and Roscoe Parrish of the Bills, Clinton Portis, Santana Moss and Sean Taylor of the Redskins, and Antrel Rolle of the Cardinals.

This Hurricane of daily activity isn't a rebellion and it's not just a Miami thing. Walker went to Florida State. Burress went to Michigan State. Because the guys working out at Miami are friends, those involved are pushing each other to make themselves better players. The workouts are free. The NFL players sign liability waivers to protect the university, but the idea is to leave each day stronger and feeling better.

Take Shockey, for example. Nothing against Giants Stadium, but Shockey has been jinxed with injuries the past two seasons. He's proud and he's concerned. After a good game against the Vikings last season, Shockey said in the locker room that he wasn't the player he was in 2002, a strange statement for a 24-year-old tight end.

Proud to a fault, Shockey wanted to find himself, and he turned to Swasey and his friends at his alma mater. Coughlin apparently understood.

"Jeremy told me he wanted to get back to where he felt like he did during his rookie season," Swasey said. "He was a 4.53 40[-yard dash] guy weighing 255 pounds with a 36-inch vertical jump coming into the league. It's nothing about the league, but he wanted to get back to where he felt years ago. It was a matter of me helping him find himself."

Swasey doesn't profess to have a magic formula. It's not as though the University of Miami has equipment that doesn't exist at NFL headquarters. Sure, the Hurricanes are blessed. They have $425,000 worth of equipment in their gigantic weight room along with three football fields for working on speed outside.

A former Baylor defensive back, Swasey offers a hard-work regimen, professional instruction and the competition and push of elite athletes who want to succeed. Players such as James and Shockey were first-rounders because of what they received and accomplished at Miami. If it worked in college, they feel it can work for them in the NFL.

"We have a basic facility, but coming in there is an aura about it," Swasey said. "First of all, there is the feeling here that nobody is better than anybody else, so coming in can be a humbling experience. It's my job to tell them when they aren't doing things right."

The Hurricanes have had a long tradition of alumni coming back from NFL teams to the facility to train during the offseason. NFL players do it during their bye weeks in the regular season, and they spend their offseasons in south Florida.

Swasey is entrusted with that tradition. He came to Miami as an assistant strength trainer in 1997, left for a brief time and then returned. One of the first players he worked with was James, whom he helped prepare for his pro day. James ran a 4.38 in the 40 and was the fourth player selected in the 1999 draft. Wayne, Reed, Samari Rolle and others trained feverishly with him during the offseason.

In 2001, James suffered an ACL tear. The next two offseasons, James and the Colts struggled over where he should be during the offseason. The Colts wanted him in Indianapolis. James preferred Miami, his offseason home. At one point, quarterback Peyton Manning publicly called out James, pleading with him to spend more time in Indy than Miami, but James was trying to best prepare himself for a full recovery from a knee reconstruction.

Eventually, in Miami the Colts trusted. James worked his way back to the 1,500-yard level, and his team accepts how he handles the offseason. James attends the Colts' mandatory workouts. But he believes his hardest work is done at the University of Miami.

"One of the main things is that speed is strength," Swasey said. "With Edgerrin, we're working a lot of squats and powerlifting. We've got to increase the leg strength. His weight is around 210 pounds, but you need to squat about twice your body weight to have that kind of strength."

James has done that while also trying to balance his running strength. Last year, for example, the offseason work allowed James to build the leg strength necessary to regain his jump cuts so he could change directions with authority. He's leaner and stronger. Though he still has to do extra work to strengthen the reconstructed knee, James is back to being a franchise player.


Shockey is also working on his explosiveness. His body fat is at about 8 percent. To regain his explosiveness off the line of scrimmage, he's spending more time with squats and quick power lifts. Still, neither Shockey nor James receives special treatment. The idea is to work.

"Basically, you treat guys with respect and work hard," Swasey said. "It's an honor to be with this group. A lot of it is just doing things the right way."

So far, Shockey's hard work has earned Coughlin's confidence. This wouldn't work if Shockey weren't prompt in returning the coach's phone calls to give progress reports. When asked to be at the Giants' offseason program for a couple days, Shockey cooperated. The coach wants to see more of him at the headquarters as the season draws closer.

Regardless of the success rate of those who train at Miami, each team handles the situation differently. The Houston Texans, for example, make it clear they want their players to train in Houston. Though former Hurricanes wide receiver Andre Johnson is a regular at UM early in the offseason, he is regularly attending the 14 weeks of training in Houston.

Texans general manager Charley Casserley just traded for cornerback Phillip Buchanon, a former Hurricane. Before the trade, Casserley made it clear that he wanted him to live and train in Houston during the offseason. Buchanon agreed. Had he not, the Texans would have looked in a different direction for a corner.

The NFL is a team game, and team chemistry is important. But preparations for the season can be personal, and the Hurricanes' weight room has been a special place where special athletes find or rediscover themselves. Swasey knows that the daily training group can't grow much bigger than 25 to 30 players for that lunchtime session.

Plus, his 14-week program is basically done, leaving time for the NFL players to join their teams. Shockey, James and others, though, stay.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.