'Sled' no toy for Broncos
Tuten's device tests players' stamina, heart
By John Marshall, The Associated Press
Defensive lineman Lional Dalton's massive legs churn as starts his turn pushing the sled. By the end of the trip, he's practically crawling and appears to be too tired to even lift his head.
New quarterback Jake Plummer, taking his first turn on what linebacker Keith Burns has called "The Beast," drops to his knees at the end of one run and stares at the floor before staggering away.
Wide receiver Herb Haygood can't even finish his go-round, prompting yells of "Don't stop, Herb, don't stop!"
The sled looks like something made in shop class, but it makes even the strongest players drop like mosquitos in a bug zapper.
The man behind the sled is the Broncos' strength coach, Rich Tuten.
"I kind of question his mental state," said wide receiver Rod Smith. "He can be like the Stephen King of coaching. Sometimes I just shake my head and look at him: 'You need a hug, don't you? Your wife ain't giving you enough hugs. I'm going to have to talk to her."'
The sled doesn't look like much at first glance. It resembles a small pier - and it might as well be one, as far as the Broncos who have to push it are concerned.
The base is made with 2-by-6 inch boards that form about a 4-foot square. Two boards that rise from the sides are connected to two cross boards, with angled Two-by-sixes behind for support. In the middle are a pair of handles about two feet apart - roughly the width lineman reach their hands while engaged at the line of scrimmage.
"This has got to be the toughest thing I've done in my life," said Dalton, one of the biggest Broncos at 6-feet-1, 309 pounds.
The hard sledding comes from the design.
After pushing a Volkswagen with his teammates at Clemson in the late 1970s, Tuten wanted to design something that players could use to build up leg strength and explosiveness.
The Broncos already had blocking sleds, but those were designed for several players to use at a time. Tuten, always looking for innovative ways to push his players, wanted something that would force players to do all the work themselves.
The idea for the sled came one day while he was pushing a lawnmower up a hill.
"It's something everybody can do. You just have to push yourself," said Tuten, entering his ninth season as Denver's strength coach. "As long as you can put one foot in front of another, you can do it. You might take 6-inch steps, but you can still do it."
Tuten started with a sled that he built in his garage and has expanded it into a fleet of eight. Four sleds designed for backs and receivers weigh 185 pounds or lighter, while four others made for linemen and linebackers at least 220 pounds.
Players must push the sleds from a low position to keep the front brace from lifting up and the opposite end from digging into the turf. The design not only builds strength and increases stamina, it forces players to extend their arms fully and straighten their backs - movements that mirror what they'll have to do on the field.
"Football is such a game of leverage, being under the man and having more power," Tuten said. "You don't have any power straight-legged. The sled makes you stay down, it makes you stay flat. It's perfect for linemen."
NFL players are some of the strongest and best-conditioned athletes in the world, but Tuten's sled makes them look like middle schoolers running the mile for the first time.
They only do it once a week and in 50-yard intervals, but just three or four trips leaves players gasping for air in the high altitude and crab-walking away with burning quadriceps.
At a session last week, about two dozen players entered the Broncos' indoor practice facility laughing and joking. By the time they were done about 20 minutes later, most were flat on their backs, staring at the white ceiling - and wondering, as Burns put it, if they had died and gone to heaven.
Plummer looked as if he had done just that, lying on his back with his arms folded across his chest and his eyes closed.
"It tests your character, it tests what's inside because there's no cheating," Smith said. "You can do whatever you want to do, but you've got to get it 50 yards on your own. There's nothing else you can do. It tests your heart. Sometimes you're going to stop, but you've just got to finish it."