LAST SATURDAY, Clemson safety Jayron Kearse was selected in the seventh round of the draft by the Vikings. His preparation for that day and the rookie camp to follow this week, started over the winter when Kearse returned to Florida, near his hometown of Fort Myers, and hit the beach.
In late February, Kearse—nephew of former NFL All-Pro Jevon Kearse—shifted his training from agility drills and sprints geared to preparing for the combine to more position-specific sessions, many along the waterfront. "We do the same cuts we do on the turf but in the sand," says Derek Touchette, Kearse's trainer at Total Athletic Performance in Naples. "Zigzag drills, footwork, drills where he has to circle the cones, backpedal and break off into 45-degree sprints."
Kearse focused on running backward and opening his hips, critical skills for a defensive back. "Playing my position, you have to be able to turn and run and do it with efficiency because we are running backward 90% of the time," says the 6'4", 216-pound Kearse. "We do a lot of opening-up drills to make sure my hips are flexible, box jumps to work on explosion, things like that."
To aid with flexibility, Touchette adds in yoga stretches and massages to relieve tight muscles using a foam roller targeted to the glutes and hip flexors.
Kearse also works on catching the ball during a session. Sometimes he uses the Jugs machine to snatch at least 50 footballs, and he snags tennis balls, too. Says Touchette, "I take a Sharpie and put different numbers on the balls, so when we're playing catch, he has to locate the number. Hand-eye coordination has to be extremely high."
The purpose of all this? "My goal is to continue to perfect my craft," Kearse says, "so when I do get the opportunity, I can go out there and seize the moment."
Presented by edge
While most players are called upon to move quickly forward and laterally, defensive backs have to run backward. Below, Touchette shares his tips for efficient backpedaling.
Keep your weight balanced over your feet. This requires a strong core, including the hamstrings, glutes, abs and stabilizers.
On Your Toes
Don't get caught on your heels. Remain on the balls of your feet so you can turn and break into a forward sprint if needed.
Relax Your Arms
In the backpedal stance, keep your arms loose, and your elbows bent at 90 degrees, in line with your hips.
For more athlete training profiles and tips, go to SI.com/edge
RICHARD SHIRO/AP (KEARSE)
SAFE BET Kearse, a two-year starter at Clemson, fits a position of need for Minnesota.
ILLUSTRATION BY MARTIN LAKSMAN