‘Hogs 2.0’ are a much di≠er­ent breed

Do­ing yoga, eat­ing ve­gan and sip­ping Hen­nessy, these Red­skins of­fen­sive line­men hope to live up to the orig­i­nals’ legacy

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY MAS­TER TESFATSION

Nine of Trent Wil­liams’s fel­low Wash­ing­ton Red­skins of­fen­sive line­men gath­ered around him in the cor­ner of a state-of-the-art gym ear­lier this month. Each wore gear em­bla­zoned with “Hogs 2.0,” and they were here, at Wil­liams’s in­vi­ta­tion, to work out to­gether, bond and work to­ward their col­lec­tive goal: achiev­ing suc­cess sim­i­lar to the hard-block­ing, hard-living group that was cen­tral to the fran­chise’s three Su­per Bowl ti­tles more than two decades ago.

But first, the 320-pound left tackle had a reve­la­tion to make: He went ve­gan.

Apart from the nick­name re­dux, this week in Texas wasn’t go­ing to re­mind any­one of the 1980s, when line­men lunched on hot dogs and drank post-prac­tice beers in a lawn mower shed. Rather, the 2.0 ver­sion of the Hogs talked about giv­ing up meat; em­ployed the lat­est (and most ruth­less) fit­ness tech­niques at O Ath­letik, a fa­cil­ity co-owned by Wil­liams and New Or­leans Saints run­ning back Adrian Peter­son; and sipped late-night Hen­nessy at a stim­u­lat­ing hip-hop lounge.

As one of the NFL’s best of­fen­sive lines over the past two sea­sons and a crit­i­cal — if per­haps over­looked — driver in the team’s re­cent of­fen­sive turn­around, these eclec­tic per­son­al­i­ties are at­tempt­ing to es­tab­lish their own aura while draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from one of the best units in NFL his­tory.

“I tagged a 2.0 onto it be­cause I didn’t want

peo­ple to think we were try­ing to em­u­late the Hogs and say we had as much suc­cess or we were as good as they were,” Wil­liams said. “But we wanted to pay homage to them and let them know that’s what we’re chas­ing. We’re chas­ing their great­ness, and we ac­knowl­edge that they were great, and we ac­knowl­edge we want to be just like them — if not bet­ter.”

Wil­liams in­vited all 15 Red­skins line­men to his off­sea­son home, and all but five took him up on it. The rar­ity of an of­fen­sive line­man camp doesn’t es­cape Wil­liams, who has or­ga­nized the lo­gis­tics the past two years. He no­ticed how quar­ter­backs of­ten got to­gether with their wide re­ceivers and tight ends dur­ing the off­sea­son to work on things such as tim­ing and fa­mil­iar­ity. But the same wasn’t true for of­fen­sive line­men, for whom con­ti­nu­ity is just as im­por­tant.

“If you don’t trust the man next to you, ain’t got [ex­ple­tive],” Isa­iah Wil­liams said while stretch­ing.

Trent Wil­liams han­dled all his team­mates’ ex­penses, in­clud­ing flights, ho­tels and three sets of Hogs 2.0 work­out at­tire in black, bur­gundy and gray pro­vided by Nike. And also all meals, which proved to be chal­leng­ing be­cause some of the largest men on the team weren’t eat­ing red meat, poul­try or dairy prod­ucts.

Trent Wil­liams ex­plained his life­style change, which was on its sixth day. The five­time Pro Bowl hon­oree had re­cently watched “What the Health,” a 92-minute doc­u­men­tary on Net­flix that “ex­am­ines the link be­tween diet and dis­ease.” The doc­u­men­tary had opened up his un­der­stand­ing of how hu­mans are the only species to cook an­i­mal meat and drink milk from other mam­mals — which, the movie said, helps con­trib­ute to dif­fer­ent can­cers and Type 2 di­a­betes.

Fel­low 300-pound of­fen­sive line­men Arie Kouand­jio and Isa­iah Wil­liams saw the doc­u­men­tary soon af­ter and ad­justed their eat­ing habits. Kouand­jio went full ve­gan, and Wil­liams com­mit­ted to a pescatar­ian diet.

“It’s kind of ironic be­cause hogs eat ev­ery­thing,” Kouand­jio said. “They even eat their own kind.”

Mon­day, July 10

The first work­out started at about 12:30 p.m., nearly 90 min­utes be­hind sched­ule. James Cooper, founder of O Ath­letik and the group’s trainer for the week, was wrap­ping up an­other work­out ses­sion that fea­tured Peter­son, Green Bay Pack­ers run­ning back Ty Mont­gomery, Buf­falo Bills de­fen­sive end Jerry Hughes, Min­nesota Vik­ings de­fen­sive line­men Danielle Hunter and Tom John­son, Red­skins de­fen­sive end Joey Mbu and Red­skins line­backer Pete Robert­son, Trent Wil­liams’s cousin.

Cooper took it easy on the Hogs 2.0 to start, but shirts and shorts were drenched in sweat af­ter an hour. They ran through a se­ries of drills us­ing agility lad­ders and cones, with an em­pha­sis on foot­work and the flu­id­ity from one move­ment to an­other, be­fore mov­ing on to “get-up” sprints start­ing from a down­ward push-up po­si­tion.

“Y’all look like these In­sta­gram videos mov­ing your feet,” Cooper said, dis­pleased by how the line­men were chop­ping their feet through the lad­der. “That’s not [ex­ple­tive] fit­ness.”

The play­ers walked off the field and ap­proached four TRX sus­pen­sion ca­bles hang­ing off the top of the gym’s pow­er­lift­ing racks. They wouldn’t use weights on this day, just their body weight. It fol­lowed a ses­sion of of­fen­sive line drills with Ge­orge Hegamin, an NFL line­man from 1994 to 2000, and an op­tional box­ing ses­sion to com­plete a nearly five-hour work­out.

For­mer cen­ter Jeff Bos­tic said the orig­i­nal Hogs’ two-hour work­outs were not nearly as so­phis­ti­cated.

“We did mostly foot­ball-re­lated stuff,” said Bos­tic, who spent all 14 sea­sons with the Red­skins dur­ing the Hogs era. “Why are we run­ning miles and miles? Line­men run short things, so run strid­ers. We’d be on the tread­mill for 60 sec­onds, off for 40. And you’re run­ning it at eight to 10 miles an hour.” As for diet? For­get about it. “We were on an ev­ery­thing diet,” Bos­tic said. Bos­tic re­called a story of Russ Grimm crush­ing six hot dogs with all the fix­ings and a full plate of fries in be­tween prac­tices one day, only to puke it out through his face mask on the field. Dur­ing the sea­son, the Hogs drank beers in the lawn mower shack at the old Red­skins Park af­ter ev­ery prac­tice in “The 5 O’Clock Club” with run­ning back and club founder John Rig­gins.

“We solved a lot of world prob­lems and did a lot of bond­ing over 12-ounce curls,” Bos­tic said.

At the first din­ner for the Hogs 2.0, there wasn’t an al­co­holic bev­er­age on the ta­ble at Del Frisco’s steak­house. The venue might not have seemed like an ideal spot for ve­g­ans, but Trent Wil­liams and Kouand­jio got by all week on sal­ads, bread and pasta, while the rest of the group or­dered lob­ster tails, lamb chops and, of course, 18-ounce steaks.

Af­ter wait­ers tuned the tele­vi­sion to an NBA sum­mer league con­test be­tween the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers and the Sacra­mento Kings, the con­ver­sa­tion shifted to the dif­fer­ence in salaries be­tween the NFL and NBA. Play­ers re­marked at how bas­ket­ball play­ers who can’t make NBA ros­ters can play over­seas.

“They got China, Ger­many. They got options,” tackle Ty Nsekhe said. “You don’t make the 53-man ros­ter?” He ended his re­mark with a hearty laugh.

The line­men were the last ones to leave the steak­house, crack­ing jokes and bond­ing at the ta­ble un­til mid­night.

Tues­day, July 11

A laun­dry cart rolled onto the in­door soc­cer field loaded with cus­tom Hogs 2.0 Nike trainer shoes to match their all-bur­gundy at­tire. It was a gift from Nike to Wil­liams, who spent the pre­vi­ous week at the com­pany’s head­quar­ters to vol­un­teer at its high school foot­ball re­cruit­ing camp, “The Open­ing.” The shoes fea­tured Hogs 2.0 brand­ing on the tongue, tusks on the side pan­els and a gold heel tab with bur­gundy stitch­ing to repli­cate the Red­skins’ hel­met stripe.

Wil­liams called out shoe sizes and tossed orange boxes to his team­mates. Just then, right tackle Mor­gan Moses walked in, green smoothie in hand, chuck­ling, “Y’all started Christ­mas with­out me, huh?”

The joy from these cus­tom shoes van­ished once they walked out­side into the swel­ter­ing heat. They stared at a hill with a Field­Turf sur­face, 40 feet long and 35 feet high at a 33-de­gree an­gle. For the next hour, they ran in­clined sprints and both for­ward and back­ward bear crawls while suf­fer­ing car­pet burns on their hands.

“Some of y’all came out just to say y’all were here,” Cooper said when their pace slowed down. “Let me see that self­ish­ness now.”

When Cooper in­terned for the San An­to­nio Spurs in 1995, he loved how play­ers would do re­verse bear crawls on arena steps, but he thought the con­sis­tent in­cline of a hill would be bet­ter. So when O Ath­letik opened its doors in April 2016, he made sure to have one patented and in­stalled.

“When you do it on the back end of a work­out like this, it be­comes 75 per­cent back­loaded men­tal,” Cooper said. “You fig­ure out why you’re work­ing.”

The San Fran­cisco 49ers loved the hill. They’re ex­pected to have their own com­pleted in time for train­ing camp. As for whether one will be in­stalled at Red­skins Park: “I hope not. Woooo, I would hope not,” Trent Wil­liams re­sponded, while Isa­iah Wil­liams and Nsekhe agreed. “The hill is a help­less feel­ing.”

Hogs 2.0 left a trail of sweat on their trek to the bench presses, where they worked on strength­en­ing their up­per bod­ies and cores. As they bal­anced sta­bil­ity balls be­tween their legs while do­ing bench reps of 225, 315 and 405 pounds, the line­men briefly stopped and gazed across the gym at a tele­vi­sion.

“Is Kirk Cousins a Fran­chise Quar­ter­back?” read the graphic on a Fox Sports 1 talk show. The quar­ter­back the line­men have helped pro­tect for the past two sea­sons had six days to reach an agree­ment with the Red­skins on a long-term deal. The line­men spec­u­lated about what would hap­pen to Cousins and the Red­skins.

“He al­ready said he wanted to know how free agency feels,” Moses said.

The fol­low­ing Mon­day, Cousins would opt to play on the fran­chise tag for a sec­ond straight sea­son. He has ben­e­fited from one of the league’s bet­ter of­fen­sive lines. The Red­skins have al­lowed the sec­ond-fewest sacks (50) in the NFL over the past two sea­sons, and Wash­ing­ton was one of five teams to rank in the top 10 of Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus’s pass-block­ing and run-block­ing grades last year, a sea­son that saw the team fin­ish third in to­tal yards.

This suc­cess has co­in­cided with the fran­chise’s sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in the po­si­tion. The Red­skins used the No. 5 over­all pick in the 2015 draft on Brandon Scherff (who did not at­tend the camp), signed Trent Wil­liams to a five-year, $66 mil­lion con­tract ex­ten­sion in Au­gust 2015 and locked in a third foun­da­tional piece in Moses with a five-year, $38 mil­lion ex­ten­sion this April. The team also hired for­mer NFL head coach Bill Cal­la­han to be its of­fen­sive line coach in Jan­uary 2015.

“Even if you’re aim­ing too high, you’ve got to set goals,” Wil­liams said. “That’s one of the goals we set. We want to be just as good as [the orig­i­nal Hogs]. We want to go down in his­tory as one of the best O-lines to play the game. Whether that will hap­pen, who’s to know? But we’ve still got to plan to be that great.”

Hegamin led Hogs 2.0 back out­side and onto the vol­ley­ball court, fea­tur­ing sand im­ported from Florida beaches. It’s bleached and sifted to a mi­crom­e­ter that meets pro beach vol­ley­ball stan­dards. “Where y’all get this sand from?” Moses asked as his feet sunk into the sur­face. “[Ex­ple­tive] feels like it’s from Aruba.”

Six cones were spread out hor­i­zon­tally on the court. Wear­ing socks to avoid burns in the 96-de­gree heat, they shuf­fled their feet across the sand while punch­ing out with medicine balls of 10, 15 and 20 pounds. They did it so of­ten they cre­ated trenches in the sand.

“I broke through my first wall about two hours ago,” Nsekhe said while heav­ing for oxy­gen dur­ing the end of the work­out. “I done found an­other wall.”

Wed­nes­day, July 12

Fol­low­ing an­other late din­ner at Steak 48, the Hogs 2.0 were run­ning nearly two hours be­hind sched­ule when they ar­rived at the Heights High School track.

Cooper pushed them through three 300-me­ter sprints, two 200-me­ter sprints and five 100-me­ter sprints. He wasn’t sat­is­fied with the ef­fort on the fi­nal 100-me­ter dash, which turned into a half­hearted jog, so Cooper added a sixth “for good mea­sure” be­fore ini­ti­at­ing a stren­u­ous, 15-minute ab work­out.

“How are y’all go­ing to get to Jan­uary if y’all can’t hold an ab po­si­tion?” Cooper yelled. “I’m not be­ing neg­a­tive. I’m just telling the truth.”

Of­fen­sive line­men run in short bursts through­out a game, but these dif­fi­cult car­dio ses­sions were in­ten­tional. Cooper trains NFL ath­letes with the same ap­proach he trains short-dis­tance run­ners. He in­cor­po­rates cross­coun­try dur­ing their off­sea­sons, even if they are 100-me­ter sprint­ers, so they have enough en­durance and tis­sue for those fi­nal 20 me­ters dur­ing the sea­son.

“It’s the same with foot­ball. Per­for­mance­wise, you don’t get to just burst 10 yards,” Cooper said. “How about mak­ing a play and still be­ing 27 yards up the field? Some­times it’s not where you be­long, but other times it calls for it if you’re re­ally fast enough and ag­ile and you can make that play.”

An­other sched­uled ses­sion with Hegamin was can­celed, with the ex­hausted play­ers wary of risk­ing in­jury right be­fore train­ing camp. Only half the play­ers mus­tered up enough en­ergy to go out to Vic & Anthony’s Steak­house, where Wil­liams shared his bat­tles with in­som­nia. On nights be­fore a 1 p.m. game, there are times when Wil­liams doesn’t fall asleep un­til 3 a.m.

“I swear I be think­ing about foot­ball all night,” Wil­liams said.

Af­ter the ta­ble was cleared, Kouand­jio, Vin­ston Painter, Isa­iah Wil­liams, Ron­ald Pa­trick and John Kling agreed that he should go see a sleep ex­pert. The con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ued well past mid­night.

“I guess these 9 o’clock din­ners are kind of late, huh?” Wil­liams said.

Thurs­day, July 13

A re­cov­ery day: No more hills, no more sand drills and no more sprints. Rather, the Hogs 2.0 were par­tic­i­pat­ing in one-on-one drills for the first time in 2017 be­cause the drills are out­lawed dur­ing off­sea­son prac­tices. The group of play­ers they went against in­cluded Hughes, caus­ing Trent Wil­liams to re­call how he went two years with­out al­low­ing a sack un­til Hughes got the best of him in Week 16 dur­ing the 2015 sea­son. On a play-ac­tion pass in the third quar­ter, Hughes hes­i­tated in­side, then blew right by Wil­liams off the edge to bring Cousins down. Wil­liams slapped his hands to­gether in frus­tra­tion af­ter the play. “I try not to hold a grudge,” Wil­liams joked. Nsekhe took off for the air­port af­ter one-onones, while ev­ery­one else walked into a room with yoga in­struc­tor Ali­cia Till­man. They started with mus­cle ac­ti­va­tion, or power yoga flow, and fin­ished with deep stretch­ing, called “ath­letic re­store” at O Ath­letik. Till­man cu­rated a playlist heavy on Tu­pac Shakur and Jay-Z, caus­ing Hogs 2.0 to rap and whis­tle in be­tween the grunts and groans from down­ward dogs and leg stretches us­ing a yoga strap.

“My man over here strug­gling to get that strap around his an­kles,” Moses said as he ob­served Isa­iah Wil­liams wrestling with the yoga strap across the room. The en­su­ing laugh­ter from the unit echoed in the tiny space, but Till­man later de­manded si­lence and told the line­men to close their eyes.

It was the qui­etest Hogs 2.0 had been all week. “No­body was hor­ri­ble, so good job,” Till­man said.

Once the ses­sion ended, Kouand­jio quickly stepped out of the musty room and came back to wipe off his yoga mat. “It smells like . . . cat­food,” Kouand­jio said.

Trent Wil­liams Facetimed Red­skins tight end Jor­dan Reed, who was train­ing in Miami, to see whether he was still ve­gan af­ter mak­ing the switch about a month be­fore. He wasn’t, which Wil­liams had ex­pected. Reed started eat­ing meat the pre­vi­ous week be­cause he was los­ing too much weight.

Wil­liams, who was nine days in at this point, had the same con­cerns as Reed about main­tain­ing weight, par­tic­u­larly once train­ing camp started. But he planned to re­main ve­gan dur­ing the first few days of prac­tice and re­assess.

“I’m bet­ter­ing my life,” Wil­liams said. “I ain’t [ex­ple­tive] with that an­i­mal prod­uct no more.”

Wil­liams hung up and asked Isa­iah Wil­liams to make a reser­va­tion at Yau­atcha, a mod­ern Chi­nese tea­room across the street with just two lo­ca­tions in the United States (the other is in Honolulu). There was a prob­lem, how­ever: Hogs 2.0 were able to get into ev­ery steak­house this week in tank tops, gym shorts and slides, but Yau­atcha had a stricter dress code.

Some of the guys wanted to bail and go back to Steak 48 across the street, but Wil­liams was ea­ger to try the food on Cooper’s glow­ing rec­om­men­da­tion and per­suaded the restau­rant to al­low the group in.

“I’m giv­ing y’all a head start so I won’t be em­bar­rassed walk­ing in,” said Cooper, who waited up front as cus­tomers were fix­ated on these 300-pound line­men walk­ing through a snazzy restau­rant dressed to play bas­ket­ball.

“I think I heard peo­ple say, ‘Now, how did they get in here?’ ” Ron­ald Pa­trick said.

With the play­ers iso­lated from the rest of the guests in a pri­vate sec­tion, Cooper, who lived in China dur­ing the 1990s as a pro­fes­sional kick- boxer, fielded ques­tions about the menu.

The line­men’s palates ex­panded as they or­dered che­ung fun, rice noo­dle rolls stuffed with prawns and bean curd, scal­lop dumplings and baked puffs stuffed with veni­son — the last of which ended Wil­liams’s nine-day ve­gan streak.

“I don’t know what that veni­son is, but that [ex­ple­tive] is hit­tin’!” Wil­liams yelled. Isa­iah Wil­liams caved, too, at the sight of aro­matic crispy duck.

“I’m 99 per­cent” ve­gan, Trent Wil­liams later said. “I’m work­ing on that last 1” per­cent.

Wil­liams spent the en­tire din­ner, which ended at about 11:15 p.m., ral­ly­ing Hogs 2.0 to hit a night­club on the fi­nal night. Some were down; oth­ers were ready for bed. A few agreed to do an op­tional work­out with Wil­liams on Fri­day.

Isa­iah Wil­liams, Painter, Catalina and Pa­trick joined Trent Wil­liams and some of his col­lege and child­hood friends at Jet Lounge, a small, dimly lit spot two blocks from Toy­ota Cen­ter, where the Rock­ets play. Floor-to-ceil­ing ware­house win­dows on one side of the lounge looked out to­ward the down­town Hous­ton sky­line.

They grabbed a ta­ble next to the en­trance. Some sat on the linen couch and two leather arm­chairs. Wil­liams or­dered two bot­tles: To­day’s world prob­lems would be solved over Hen­nessy and Ciroc.

Wil­liams got bumped as two men were dragged out for fight­ing in front of the sec­tion, but he was un­fazed and re­mained calm. The DJ then elec­tri­fied the crowd with noth­ing but Texas hip-hop cuts for the next 40 min­utes. Wil­liams flung his hands to the sound­track of his child­hood, span­ning from Big Moe to Lil’ Keke to DJ Screw. He rapped along to Z-Ro’s “Mo City Don,” the state an­them in cer­tain parts of Texas.

Slow, loud and ban­gin’, all in my trunk. Trunk full of funk, I ain’t never been a punk.

“Only in Hous­ton can you get this!” one of Trent Wil­liams’s child­hood friends yelled over the mu­sic, ex­pos­ing his $10,000 di­a­mond grill and pro­vid­ing a tem­po­rary light source. Even the line­men who weren’t from Texas couldn’t help but nod their heads with ap­proval un­til it reached 2 a.m., when the lounge flipped on the ceil­ing lights.

Wil­liams and the rest of Hogs 2.0 weren’t ready to call it a night yet. While they pin­pointed their next lo­ca­tion and hopped into black cars, Wil­liams said he still planned to make it to the gym for the unit’s op­tional 10:30 a.m. work­out. At the lat­est, he thought he would ar­rive at about 11 a.m.

Fri­day, July 14

At 11:30 a.m., 39 peo­ple were at O Ath­letik, not a sin­gle Hog in sight.

JOHN MCDON­NELL/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

PHOTOS BY JOHN MCDON­NELL/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

TOP LEFT: Red­skins of­fennsive line­men sprint up a 33-de­gree ramp dur­ing a pri­vate work­out at O Ath­letik gym in Hous­ton. They ran in­clined sprints and both for­ward and back­ward bear crawls while suf­fer­ing car­pet burns on their hands. TOP RIGHT: Pro Bowl of­fen­sive tackle Trent Wil­liams, who or­ga­nized the “Hogs 2.0” event so the line­men could work out to­gether and bond, leads the way dur­ing a 300-me­ter run at Heights High in Hous­ton and stretches with a giant elas­tic band at O Ath­letik. ABOVE: Guard Ron­ald Pa­trick is soaked from sweat af­ter work­ing out on the ramp, and cen­ter Chase Roul­lier dines at Steak 48, where not ev­ery­one con­sumed red meat.

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