'Sports car' Warford thrives in starting role

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- LeCharles Bentley showed up in Larry Warford’s home last December, iPad in tow, ready to make his pitch.

It was a recruitment that began before Warford and Bentley first talked or actually met. It started with a television remote control, an obsession with college football and the need to flip through college games.

Bentley found Warford, now the Detroit Lions’ starting right guard, while watching Kentucky play Western Kentucky. The former NFL offensive lineman didn’t care about the score. He observed Warford, his hip movement and how his explosion jumped off the screen. It made Bentley track the kid and eventually make his pitch.

Which is how he ended up in Warford’s home three months later, offering his services to the soon-to-be NFL rookie. By the time the meeting ended, Warford remembered thinking simply: “Cool. Let’s go.”

“The deal was sealed once the meeting was over,” Bentley said. “I knew what he wanted and he knew what I wanted and I knew that he was going to be willing to buy in. It takes time to develop that trust between athlete-trainer, athlete-coach. Obviously it was a little bit of trepidation there in that I only have X amount of time to get this thing right. 'OK, I got this, OK, we’re going to get it done.'

“He understood what I was trying to get done, which was the exact opposite of what he had been hearing from so many different people. He just had to trust the process.”

It began with making Warford, who weighed 343 pounds at Kentucky, leaner. Using a system without intense treadmill or high-impact aerobic workouts -- a system Bentley won’t divulge -- he systematically made Warford thinner, stronger and more NFL-ready.

This helped impress scouts, general managers and coaches leading up to the draft. The weight shift also gave Bentley something to work with when Warford needed to transition to football training from the time organized team activities ended until training camp.

Among those who noticed were the Lions, who coached Warford during the Senior Bowl. After the game, he became a priority target. They drafted him hoping he’d one day be a starter.

The two months from OTAs to training camp shifted the timetable. Warford contended right away. He was able to compete because of small technical tweaks suggested by Lions offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn during OTAs, and then again by Bentley when they resumed working out in Arizona.

“I was taking too big a step just off my first kick,” Warford said. “I was really shifting my balance too much from one side to the other.

“All my weight would be distributed to my outside foot, so that would get me off-balance. You really don’t notice it until somebody else says something to you. Even on film, it’s hard to say, ‘Am I really doing that?’ Because you really can’t tell.”

Washburn and Bentley stayed in touch during the summer, exchanging text messages about Warford’s progress. By the time Warford started camp, Washburn said Warford was more focused. More intent.

Bentley said that unlike a lot of other young players, Warford started working harder once he was drafted instead of relaxing. Part of his early success, too, has to do with Warford playing next to veteran center Dominic Raiola, who helps teach toughness and professionalism to the rookie.

It was similar to an experience Bentley had as a rookie right guard playing next to Jerry Fontenot in New Orleans.

Both Washburn and Bentley credited each other for helping with the transformation of Warford into a player who has taken every snap for Detroit already this season.

“We did notice a big change in him when he came back in training camp as far as attitude, body,” Washburn said. “Again, spending those however-many weeks in Arizona with LeCharles made a big difference.

“Then just his attitude, we knew he was going to make a significant push.”

When Warford arrived at Bentley’s facility after OTAs, he mentioned that the speed of everything overwhelmed him. So Bentley started to explain what he needed to do and how it would be counter to his likely plan of action.

Warford needed to give himself more space instead of crowding into a defensive lineman. It may not seem like much, but the one-to-two-tenths of a second Warford buys by stepping back to read what is going on has contributed to his success thus far.

“You have to literally think about your step, just take a step, take a step, shorten it, shorten it, shorten it,” Warford said. “It has to get to where you have to do it so many times that you don’t have to think about it anymore, you just have to do it. 'OK, that’s it.'

“It’s such a simple fix, but it makes the biggest of differences. That’s the crazy thing about [the] offensive line. It’s the subtle things that make the biggest differences.”

One of the subtleties goes back to Bentley’s initial plan -- to help Warford drop weight. Once Bentley changed his client’s weight (he's now at 333 pounds), he knew Warford had the body type, the hip explosion and the skills to become a quality NFL offensive lineman.

Warford will have to watch his weight his whole career, but here’s the scary part for opponents. What Detroit is seeing now could be the beginning.

“Larry is, he’s a sports car naturally. Genetically, that’s what he is,” Bentley said. “But he just had this dump-truck frame. He’s a guy that if you remove layers of what’s presented to you, more and more of that sports car is going to come out.

“The really cool thing about Larry is he’s not even near where he’s going to be as he continues to grow in the NFL in terms of body composition. This is just the first year.”