Michael Egnew places his arms in a grappling position and squats to anchor down, bracing his body for impact.
The Miami Dolphins tight end is preparing for a collision with Pro Bowl pass rusher Cameron Wake, attempting to establish positioning during their one-on-one session during the first week of training camp.
Wake tussles with Egnew for a few seconds, then drives him backward a few feet.
By no stretch of the imagination was Egnew flawless during that specific drill, one he probably despised last year because it highlighted his deficiencies as a blocker.
A year ago that one-on-one battle would have looked like a beat down. But during camp's first week Egnew has held his ground as a blocker, anchoring his position better, and last year's third-round pick claims he has mixed martial arts training to thank for the lions share of his improvements.
"It helps you understand leverage and body positioning," said Egnew, who trained three times a week at Ft. Lauderdale based American Top Team. "I focused a lot on ground work for my blocking."
NFL players are always looking for a way to gain an edge, which explains why MMA training in the offseason has become the NFL's newest fad.
Starting guard Richie Incognito, who has the reputation as one of the NFL's toughest lineman, has used MMA training for years until this offseason, where he shifted his focus on becoming more athletic.
Dion Jordan, the Dolphins' first-round pick, turned to MMA this offseason to learn how to counteract his 6-foot-6 height, training with MMAthletics, a company formed by FOX Sports NFL insider Jay Glazer and Ultimate Fighting Championship star Randy Couture, the same group that trained Incognito.
MMAthletics' goal was to train NFL players and other elite athletes to become stronger, faster, and more explosive by using fighting techniques and drills from mixed martial arts.
So far it seems to be working considering Glazer has trained roughly 100 NFL players, including All-Pros like Minnesota's Jared Allen, Green Bay's Clay Matthews, Chicago's Julius Pepper and Houston's Brian Cushing.
"He taught me leverage and the importance of using my hands, the little things," Jordan said of his training sessions with Glazer. "The MMA work is a little different. It breaks you! It prepares you mentally more than anything else."
Jordan, who is being brought along slowly in Dolphins camp because of a shoulder injury he's nursing, said he's seen a big difference in his technique because of his MMA work, especially when it comes leverage, and how he uses his hands.
"I enjoyed watching it, but I didn't know how tough the training was," Jordan said. "They push you to your limits every time."
MMA training is mostly core-strengthening, resolve-testing drills focused on winning one-on-one combat.
Most players who have done MMA work talk about how the training instills "a killer instinct" that helps them hit harder, run faster, and dig that much deeper than their opponents. It forces them to embrace their weaknesses.
"The Greco Roman wrestling [work] is huge. Look at a guy like Dion Jordan, who is 6-foot-6. Once he understood how to use his body he was able to get under me," said Glazer, who has a short and stocky physique.
"If you bend at the waist someone is just going to throw you down. The laws of physics say if I'm under you you're not going to move me. I'm going to move you," Glazer continued. "We teach these guys how to use their body."
Considering body-on-body combat, man-on-man jostling is the exact battle taking place between the NFL's white lines many pros find the MMA work beneficial.
"In football you're training for short bursts, you're training for power. You need to be explosive," Incognito said. "In MMA you're doing long-haul, three-minute rounds, five-minute rounds. It is about being explosive, but increasing your work capacity."
Since 2010 entire teams, like the Atlanta Falcons, have embraced MMA training, incorporating it into their offseason workouts. Even the Dolphins dedicated a day a week to karate training during the Tony Sparano era of the franchise one year, hoping it would improve the team's hand usage.
"Hand usage and leverage are really the two things I see most," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said when asked about the benefits of MMA training, "Quick hands."
Jordan believes his MMA training will help him establish the edge of the defensive line a little better, and that skill set will likely determine if he's worthy of a starting spot as a rookie considering this former University of Oregon linebacker is learning how to play defensive end.
Because Egnew was a pass catching specialist at Missouri, his ability to hold his positioning against rushers like Wake and Jordan will likely determine if he makes it onto Miami's 53-man roster in September.
"[MMA ] helped me develop a little bit of lower body strength that I didn't have before," Egnew said. "I learned you always have to prepare harder. Prepare for more than you think it is going to be because it always is."
At least he's got a fighting chance this round.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun