In the early days of the coronavirus shutdowns, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his throwing coach, Tom House, sat down to have their annual conversation regarding Brees’ goal for the offseason.
Brees’ goal was football-oriented: throwing a 60-yard pass. But the steps he normally took to get there had been eliminated because there were no open fields, and gyms were closed.
“What are we gonna do?” House recalled Thursday, speaking to Caroline Gonzalez on the Saints’ in-house podcast. “How the heck are we going to get a workout in today? What tools do we have available?”
Brees had the use of his large backyard in San Diego, but from there, the two had to get creative.
House suggested tennis, as Brees notably played the sport when he was younger — even beating former world No. 1 Andy Roddick back when the two were in grade school. So they played some tennis.
Brees suggested lacrosse, believing it would help his torque, front hip and back shoulder.
Then there was modified surfing: paddling on a surfboard in Brees’ backyard pool.
“The fact that Drew is confident enough that some our crazy stuff might work, it sounds like that comes out of nowhere, but I’ve never had a surfer with a bad arm in my 25 years, 30 years of coaching,” House said.
Brees didn’t touch a football for much of the offseason, instead throwing a one-pound ball — approximately the same weight as a football.
Early on in quarantine, they did some testing to see how much his shoulder joint and elbow could handle in regard to intensity. They found that Brees could handle as much stress as possible — a big positive for a 41-year-old quarterback who’s now in the “skill retention” phase of his training, House said.
House said there are four windows of training for athletes: neurological, muscle, skill acquisition and skill retention. Skill retention is the phase for the “aging athlete,” he said, or those who are losing flexibility and their nervous system isn’t performing at the same output it used to.
Brees and House set a one-month deadline for Brees to throw the weighted ball 60 yards. Brees accomplished that within three weeks and one day.
Then, three weeks ago, Brees picked up a football for the first time and fired a couple passes that went 45 or 50 yards, House said, “like he was 25 years old again.”
Last Thursday, House said Brees “threw a couple balls 57, 58 yards without even trying.”
The path to get there may have been unconventional, but Brees and House made it work to their benefit.
“It’s things that we would have never normally thought about, except for COVID,” House said. “And the fun thing about the relationship with Drew is that we trust, both of us, to be crazy enough to try something new and most often with Drew, the new stuff actually makes him better.”
The full episode can be found here, or on iTunes.
Other Drew Brees-related answers from House:
How did you and Drew meet?
“Drew was kind of a special circumstance. A buddy of mine, Cam Cameron, who at the time — they were both with the Chargers at that time, and he gave me a call and said, ‘Look, I got a young quarterback, Drew Brees, I’d like to bring by. I’ll sit in. We need to talk a little bit about mental, emotional and game preparation, just some things. He’s a special talent that I think he could learn a little bit from what you’re doing in the baseball world.’ It started to be a conversation about how to improve everything, mentally, physically, nutritionally and biomechanically.
“The second year I was interacting with Drew was a free-agent year and he blew his shoulder out. I knew him before the injury, and obviously went back. Dr. (James) Andrews put him together. Dr. Andrews called after the surgery and said, ‘OK, I put his shoulder back together. It was a successful surgery. But I don’t think he’s ever going to throw a football in the NFL again.’ And with that, I don’t ever think he told Drew that.
“He went through medical rehab, and when Drew was done with medical rehab, he came out. We happened to live close to each other and for a whole summer, for probably 3½ months, we went to the Pacific Athletic Club every morning at 6:30, 7 o’clock and just tried different things other than traditional weight training and recovering from his surgery. It became the protocols for all our functional fitness stuff, all our body work stuff. And as luck would have it, from the surgery to the first game for the Saints was about eight months later. Again, it was Drew Brees, which, he’s a unique human being and just brainstorming and doing things different from a really good surgery and a really good medical rehab, our performance rehab and all of those pieces put together gave Drew a chance to become the No. 1 quarterback, and he’s never looked back.”
On Brees’ work ethic:
“The one thing I can say as I get older and look back, and I saw it early on. The guys who were the superstars, and again I was fortunate enough to be around the Nolan Ryans and the guys in professional baseball that were Hall of Famers, that were superstars. Their commitment to excellence, their desire to get 1% better every day and their attention to detail, whether it was workout sessions or whether it was in the gym, the guys that are those Hall of Famers, you can recognize their commitment. They’re not only passionate, they’re motivated and they’re committed to every day trying to get better. And I saw that in Drew right away.”
Was there anything majorly different in him from before the surgery compared to after?
“I saw something hugely different. With what he was going after, his goals had to be rearranged. His thinking had to be reframed. His wiring, kinesthetically, everything had to be reframed and rewired. His commitment to the process of getting that done — I can remember one day we were an aerobics room that was all mirrors, and all we did for the whole workout for about an hour was, we put five dumbbells and had five-pound dumbbells and had him hold them in what we call our Flex-T and walk around and pretend his footwork was like he was going through a route tree. Just keeping his arms above his head with five pounds. And just moving his body while he was stabilizing his arms and his shoulder, and that was our workout for a given day. We tried things that were, in retrospect I know had never been done before, but if anybody would have been watching, they would have thought it was silly, stupid or dangerous.”