One of the most unique challenges for the Atlanta Falcons during the 136-day NFL lockout was to be the chief monitor of the their own physical conditioning.
There was no access for the Falcons to the training facility in Flowery Branch, Organized Team Activities during the offseason to gauge if they were in playing shape, or interaction with coaches to stay on top of their status.
Players, in essence, were held to an honor system that they would be ready to play when they reported through the doors in Flowery Branch on Friday.
And from what Falcons coach Mike Smith saw in the first few practices, his players got a passing grade for not slacking in the gym.
"My first impression of the team and their condition, is that I'm pleased," Smith said Friday. "But again, three or four days from now we'll really find out what kind of shape they're really in."
While many of the Falcons stayed in the Atlanta area during the offseason to workout together, some, like tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Michael Turner, opted to train with their own personal trainer closer to home.
Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones were just a couple of the players that were regulars throwing together at Buford High to stay on the same page.
While all the players were keenly aware that the lockout was a unique set of circumstances, they feel like they did their best to live up to an obligation to report in peak condition.
"We're professionals and expected to come into camp in shape to play," Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said. "If you don't have that drive, maybe you're in the wrong profession.
"It was certainly different than our normal routine, but that's all spilled milk at this point."
And from the stories players tell about their own offseason conditioning, there's clearly many different ways to skin a cat.
Falcons veteran center Todd McClure said that all the manual labor on his 60-acre property and raising rodeo cattle was plenty for him to stay fit for football.
He said he also did regular cardio work, along with chasing around his four children.
"This is a job and a business, and guys know that if they want to stay around, they need to stay in shape," McClure said. "I feel like our team is in pretty good shape right now, but only time will tell."
Meanwhile, second-year linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was a glutton for punishment with his offseason drills. One of his most unique training practices was doing plyometric exercises in a sand pit.
He said working out in the sand helps save the knees and ankles by not landing on a hard surface.
"If you're moving fast in the sand, you know you'll be moving fast doing the same work on the ground," Weatherspoon said.
DeCoud also stayed close to Flowery Branch, working out with teammates and defensive backs Brent Grimes and Rafael Bush at an indoor facility in
At least three-days a week for three months, they congregated at Competitive Edge Sports and worked on every aspect of physical conditioning and also played pick-up basketball.
When the lockout ended, they wanted to be ready.
"It kept me wanting to get better and make sure I wasn't falling behind the eight-ball," DeCoud said. "Playing the waiting game motivated people to stay in shape.
"I just wanted to make sure I was ready to go out there and make plays on the field."
And a byproduct of the collective bargaining agreement reached by players and owners is that two-a-day practices as known in the past have changed.
Players can only have one practice each day in pads and helmets, while the other practice must be a walk through.
This decision will also impact the number of snaps Falcons players see in training camp, making prior physical conditioning during the lockout even that much more critical.
Smith's very first gauge of players condition in training camp was a conditioning run, which he says went well.
However, the first practice with pads Monday may be the best indication of where players stand with only 11 days remaining before the first preseason game against the Miami Dolphins on Aug. 12 at the Georgia Dome.
"I think the first padded practice will be gut check time to see who's been doing what they say they've been doing during the offseason," DeCoud said.