Patriots

Patriots keep up with floatation therapy throughout run to Super Bowl LI

Patriots keep up with floatation therapy throughout run to Super Bowl LI

HOUSTON -- Julian Edelman was skeptical.

He was supposed to step into a tank with less than a foot of salty water warmed to the temperature of his skin, lay belly-up in the dark, and that was going to help him recover from the dozen or so jarring hits he takes on game days? 

Sure. Okay, bub. 

SUPER BOWL LI: HEADING TO KICKOFF

"When we got one, obviously I was a guy to make fun of it," Edelman said. "Then I started using it."

The Patriots introduced floatation therapy, or sensory-depravation therapy, to their players back in 2014. They now have two tanks sitting in tiled rooms at their Gillette Stadium facilities, and Edelman has come around. 

An avid floater, the 30-year-old wideout popped in three or four times a week during the season. And he's far from the only one in the Patriots locker room who believes in the benefits of floating.

Tom Brady is a proponent and reportedly keeps a float tank of his own at home to help him remain atop his game as he nears 40. Chris Hogan has become a regular in the tanks this year after hearing Edelman and Brady rave about them. Matthew Slater has made floating for about an hour part of his weekly routine, and Dont'a Hightower has become so fond of it that he recently purchased passes for his mother and sister to float back in his home state of Tennessee. 

Even when the Patriots moved their entire operation to the University of Houston and the JW Marriottin preparation for Super Bowl LI, players did their best to maintain their float schedules, just as they did two years ago before Super Bowl XLIX. The tanks are bulky and can contain 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt for buoyancy -- "It's like the Dead Sea," Edelman explained -- so they don't travel well. But there are at least five Houston-based businesses that offer floatation therapy, including three within a 15-minute drive from the team's hotel.

Patriot players frequented one of those spots during their stay, though they wouldn't say which, hoping to keep a low profile.

Despite the fact that they haven't been able to use the same tanks they've used all season, the basic elements of most sensory-depravation devices are the same: They're seven-to-eight feet long and three-to-four feet wide; they contain about 10-to-11 inches of water heated to about 94 degrees; they're covered to keep things dark; and they require enormous amounts of salt, allowing users to float effortlessly. 

Some look like large metal coffins. Some have an oversized clamshell feel to them with a top that hinges open and closed, which is the type the Patriots use. Some look like futuristic sedans. But the experience in all of them is generally the same. 

"You just lay back," Edelman said. "You gotta trust it. A lot of guys get anxiety for the first few times because your head doesn't go under. But once you get comfortable with it, it feels like you're just on a cloud or something because there're no pressure points. For athletes, I'm 120 percent all in on it."

'YOU GET TO JUST BE TOTALLY RELAXED'

Why, though, would a professional football player be interested in feeling like he's floating through space? How does that provide him an edge against his competition when he's either trying to hit someone or avoid being hit on Sundays?

Players inside the Patriots locker room say they believe the salt water helps reduce inflammation, and some like the idea of having a designated quiet space to think or pray.

But there's one primary benefit that they consistently highlight: Improved quality of sleep.

Many pass out inside the pods soon after they close themselves in because the combination of the darkness, the warmth, and the feeling of weightlessness make it an ideal environment for napping -- even better than sleeping in a cozy bed, where the body is still dealing with the effects of gravity, temperature, sound and light. 

"It's not that often that you get to just be totally relaxed," Slater said. "Even when you're sleeping in bed, you're putting pressure on something. But when you get in there, you're really fully relaxed."

And when the nap is over, that's when some of the most critical effects kick in. 

"The big thing it addresses is how you rest the night after you go in there," Slater said. "I think sleep is something that is totally underrated. As an athlete it's so important that you rest and recover your body, and I think it helps you do that at a higher level. The night after I get in that, I definitely rest a whole lot better."

"Once you get up and you shower and stuff," Hightower said, "you're usually really relaxed, like after a massage. I've got a big bean bag back at home, and as soon as I get back home, I'm putting on cartoons, I'm on the bean bag and passed out. That's pretty much my day after the float tank." 

Hightower has used the tanks in previous seasons, but he said he's been in them more than ever this year. After making the Pro Bowl for the first time and putting himself in line to earn a sizable new contract as an impending free agent, he was reluctant to create too strong a link between his performance and the quality of his sleep, but he did admit, "It's been working for me this year so I'm going to keep going back to it."

"Especially putting in as much work as we do here, and guys who stay after and watch all the extra film, you want to get as much sleep as you can," Hightower continued. "You can go in there for 20 minutes, 10 minutes, and feel a little bit of a difference."

The edge, then, as players describe it, isn't necessarily in the relaxation experienced while in the tank. It's that those moments of relaxation lead to better sleep later on. Improved quality of sleep is a very good thing for an athlete, of course, since it's linked to improved reaction time, quicker physical recovery, and an increased capacity for learning.

'IT'S STILL WEIRD TO ME'

Not everyone in the Patriots locker room is interested in floating. There are Patriots who have never dipped their toes in the tanks. Malcolm Butler hasn't tried it. Neither has Danny Amendola. They have their own routines that work for them, and they don't feel the need to stray.

Even for some who use it regularly, there are hurdles to overcome because for them it's just a little, well, strange.

"It's still weird to me," said rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has used the tanks to help him adjust to the long days that come with life as a professional. 

"I've been in it a couple times, but it's still weird to me. It's definitely different. I'd never heard of it until I got here, and at first, I was like, 'What if I want to get out? Or what if I get locked in?' But you forget about it eventually."

Slater isn't claustrophobic, and he was more than open to the benefits of floating after hearing about them from Bill Belichick, head strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera and nutritionist Ted Harper.

Still, his first experience sounded like it would have been enough to turn him off to the whole idea. 

"It didn't go very well," Slater said. "I remember getting salt in my eyes because it gets hot in there with the lid closed, and I was sweating. I wiped my eyes, my eyes were burning. Had to get out. It took me a while to get comfortable in there and get used to the process, but it's been pretty smooth since then."

As it is for most. In fact, back at Gillette Stadium, in order to make the experience as comfortable as possible, players can customize their float by plugging in their iPhones to punch up whatever audio they'd like, and the sound filters through speakers installed in the tanks. 

Hightower, for example, likes to play Drake or some slower hip-hop to mellow him out. Edelman likes to listen to tunes before he dozes off as well. 

"I put in some music where I can barely hear it, where I really have to concentrate on not thinking about anything just to kind of hear it," Edelman said. "And once I start thinking about it or start hearing the music, that's when I usually doze off because you have to get so focused on hearing the faint music. 

"That's been my routine. You go in there, you can think if you want, but I tend to try to turn it off and relax my mind, and allow my head to recover from not only physical but mental use."

'MODERN-DAY NFL, MAN'

Soon after Edelman scoffed at the idea of hopping into what looked like a flooded space ship to make his body feel better, he had a conversation with sports scientist Dr. John P. Sullivan, who worked with the Patriots. 

Edelman wasn't sleeping well at night, and Sullivan thought he should give floating a shot. 

"He was a huge fan of it," Edelman said. "I was very close with him. He was always about the sleep studies . . . He told me to start going in this thing, and it helped."

Edelman also wondered if the tanks might help with the overall health of his brain. From what information he'd been exposed to, he explained, he understood that better sleep not only led to faster recovery time for muscles and better quick-twitch reactions. It also might help a player's brain recover from injury.

"When you play a physical sport," he said, "there's a lot of studies with head trauma that the more sleep you get, the more you let your brain rest, the better it is for your head."

Edelman, who has spent his eight-year career making a living over the middle and at risk of high-speed collisions as a punt returner, admitted he couldn't be sure if he's helped his own brain by floating, "but I definitely feel more rested," he said. "And your brain recovers when it's sleeping."

The science of how the brain is impacted by floating is still relatively new. But there are those like neuropsychologist Justin Feinstein, who believe float tanks may be able to help individuals dealing with distress, including PTSD. Others, including retired Navy SEALs Jeff Nichols and Alex Oliver, have been encouraged by what they've seen from special forces operators who experienced traumatic brain injury and turned to float tanks.

As athletes like Brady, Steph Curry and Aly Raisman continue to be linked to floating, it may continue to gain popularity in the sports world, but the Patriots are already sold. Now, as they get ready to take on the Falcons, they're hoping that by laying down in shallow pools of salty water they've in some small way put themselves in position to finish as the last team standing.

"Modern-day NFL, man," Slater said, shaking his head.

Prototypical Patriots: Daniels, Wynn would build on interior strength

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Prototypical Patriots: Daniels, Wynn would build on interior strength

The outlook for the Patriots on the interior of their offensive line is good. They have three young players who have played a lot of football together all set to return in 2018: guard Joe Thuney, guard Shaq Mason and center David Andrews. Their depth looks solid as well. Ted Karras has two years in the system under his belt, and Cole Croston -- who has some versatility to play tackle or guard -- enters his second year in the program after spending all of his rookie season protected on the active roster.

So why even look at the incoming class of centers and guards?

ESPN's Mike Reiss reported that the Patriots were interested in drafting an interior offensive lineman -- almost a Logan Mankins clone from a size and athleticism perspective -- at pick No. 72 in last year's draft: Dan Feeney of Indiana. Instead, he was drafted at No. 71 by the Chargers. The Patriots ended up trading out of the pick when Feeney was gone.

Even with three young starters set to return last spring, Bill Belichick and his staff weren't afraid to add depth on the inside. The same has to be assumed once again this year, especially with Mason scheduled to hit free agency after the season.

PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS - Previously in the series:


For this exercise, we'll assume Quenton Nelson is out of New England's reach. He'd be a clear fit at guard, and he's one of the cleanest prospects in the class regardless of position. He should be gone inside the top 10 picks. We also won't include Oregon's Tyrell Crosby, Texas' Connor Williams or Auburn's Braden Smith, who some have projected to make the move inside. We included that trio in our tackles edition, but the Patriots could take any of them with the idea in mind that they should shift to guard. 

PROTOTYPES IN RANGE

JAMES DANIELS, IOWA, 6-3, 306 POUNDS
There may not be a better offensive line fit for New England in this draft. He's big enough, and his athleticism is eye-opening (30.5-inch vertical, 108-inch broad jump). He also happened to play under Kirk Ferentz in college so Daniels' transition to New England's scheme and style of play should be a relatively smooth one. Factor in the play Daniels showed on tape, and the Patriots will be interested. Unfortunately for them, there's a good chance another club is just as interested and willing to spend an early pick on the player widely considered the top center in the draft. Daniels' college teammate Sean Welsh could be a late-round (or undrafted) choice if he's deemed athletic enough. 

ISAIAH WYNN, GEORGIA, 6-3, 313 POUNDS

Wynn's hand size might be an issue since it's a full inch smaller (8 1/2 inches) than what the Patriots have typically sought in their interior line draft picks. But his arm length is 33 1/2 inches, which is more than good enough. And most importantly, his tape his tremendous. To do what he did in the SEC, small hands or not, should get him drafted in the first round. Some even believe he could stick at his last college position (he played guard and, most recently, tackle for the Bulldogs) and stick on the outside at his size. He was that good. 

FRANK RAGNOW, ARKANSAS, 6-5, 312 POUNDS

Former Arkansas coach Brett Bielema has been spotted wearing Patriots gear during the pre-draft process as he's been helping Belichick's staff with their scouting. One player he already knows very well would be Ragnow, who is considered by some to be one of the most underrated players in the draft. He's in the conversation with Daniels and Price as the best center in the class, and Pro Football Focus would argue that he is the best. His three-cone was oddly slow, but otherwise he's a good athlete who's had a lot of experience against top-notch competition in the SEC.

BILLY PRICE, OHIO STATE, 6-4, 305 POUNDS
Another very good center here. Another coaching connection for the Patriots. Price might've had a shot at being the first pivot off the board in this draft, but he injured his pec doing the bench press at this year's combine. If that injury forces him to slide to the Patriots in the second round, he could be deemed a value pick there.



AUSTIN CORBETT, NEVADA, 6-4, 306 POUNDS
Good length, big mitts, very solid athlete. Corbett is one of the best fits for the Patriots on the interior if they want to go in that direction. His 5.15-second 40 and 28-inch vertical will more than meet the mark for the Patriots, as will his 106-inch broad jump. His three-cone time (7.87 seconds) won't blow Belichick away, but it won't be enough to take him off of the board, either. 

WILL HERNANDEZ, UTEP, 6-2, 327 POUNDS
Hernandez is a little undersized, but he's a mauler in an age where linemen are generally more experienced in the pass game than the run game. When it comes to the measurables, his height (an inch shorter than what the Patriots usually like) and his vertical (24 inches) are less than ideal, but he's considered by many experts to be a first-round talent.

WYATT TELLER, VIRGINIA TECH, 6-4, 314 POUNDS

Teller is another fit from an athletic standpoint since his 40 time (5.24 seconds), vertical (29 inches), broad (114 inches) and three-cone (7.45 seconds) were all good. His play dipped in 2017, according to some experts, but if the Patriots believe he's a good option late on Day 2 or early on Day 3, he could be available. 

SCOTT QUESSENBERRY, UCLA, 6-4, 310 POUNDS

Everyone is talking about UCLA tackle Kolton Miller as the draft approaches, but Quessenberry deserves a little pub himself. He checks all the athletic markers the Patriots look for, and he started for almost four full years in a Power 5 conference. His experience, his versatility to play guard or center, and his movement skills could have the Patriots interested on Day 3. 

MASON COLE, MICHIGAN, 6-4, 305 POUNDS

Cole may not be as explosive as some others in this draft class (23.5-inch vertical), but he's coming from a pro style offense where he was a starter for four years at both left tackle and center. He's not the kind of specimen that will be drafted in the top-100, in all likelihood, but he's an interesting Day 3 option. 

ROD TAYLOR, OLE MISS, 6-3, 320 POUNDS

Taylor is on the heavy side compared to interior linemen the Patriots have drafted in the past, but he's an explosive athlete for his size (30.5-inch vertical, 99-inch broad), and he has experience at tackle. If the Patriots feel like Taylor can play multiple spots, or if they feel like he'd be an even better athlete if he loses some weight, they may be intrigued enough to spend a pick on the SEC product late.  

KJ MALONE, LSU, 6-4, 303 POUNDS

No surprise that NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone's son would meet the athletic testing numbers to compete at the next level. He was by no means a dominant tackle for the Tigers, but he could be a late-round interior option for the Patriots if they like his potential. Malone's teammate at LSU, Will Clapp, might be an even better fit given his size (6-5, 314), his position flexibility, and his reputation as a player with very strong intangibles.  Q1

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Gronkowski says 'no' to optional workouts in strange press conference

Gronkowski says 'no' to optional workouts in strange press conference

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski held a strange press conference on Saturday, which he attended in full Supercross gear. Even for the goofy Patriots tight end, that's a little odd.

But what made it even more head-scratching is that the presser occurred inside Gillette Stadium, about a 15-second walk away from the Patriots weight room, which Gronkowski steered clear of last week during the team's first few voluntary workouts of the offseason. 

Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran described Tom Brady and Gronkowski's absence from the workouts as part of an "open revolt" earlier this week. Gronkowski's presence in the building Saturday didn't have the feel of a peace offering. 

Told that fans would wonder why Gronkowski was able to make it to One Patriot Place for a Supercross event and not for workouts -- workouts which are traditionally extremely well-attended in Foxboro -- he cracked, "Training for this dirt-biking."

Asked if he planned on attending optional workouts that are upcoming, he answered, "No." He then added, "I've got dirt-biking skills to work on."

After avoiding a few questions on the topic of whether or not he would return to the Patriots in 2018, Gronkowski did seem to hint that he planned to play football next season, drawing laughter from a crowd that included Gronkowski's father, one of his brothers and multiple friends, including former Patriots Stevan Ridley and Rob Ninkovich.

How much weight should be put into comments made by Gronkowski during a press conference that was, essentially, one long promotional joke? Debatable. But the fact that he was willing to show up to the place he avoided during the week, then have a good laugh about his future with the team that he's captained the last two seasons? That might not sit very well with those who are looking ahead to the upcoming season and wondering about the All-Pro tight end's plans.

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