What separates good players from great players? What gives NFL players the chance to be longtime veterans instead of guys that bust, that never make it?

That’s a question many teams have devoted endless hours to answering. In an attempt to find the answer myself, I asked Tony Villani, who runs XPE Sports, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based combine prep facility that is one of the 3-4 best in the nation.

Not only is Tony an incredible trainer, he’s a great guy, too. So many people in the football business, and especially in the trainer space, have incredibly big egos. However, Tony has almost no ego. He’s always got time for everyone and never blows his own horn. And though he gets frustrated and even angry at times, he’s always upbeat and positive.

I asked him about the best players he trains and what makes them great. There were a couple takeaways:

They train every chance they get, even while everyone else is relaxing, or spending their by week in Las Vegas, or even the weekend after a Thursday night game: “(Saints OH Mark) Ingram came down after a Thursday night game this year. Ingram bucks the system. When he first came into the league, he tried to do it his own way. It wasn’t until he got humbled that he decided to do it right. I went to Flint(, Mich., Ingram’s hometown) to meet him personally before the combine, and he chose somewhere else (Sonic Boom in New Orleans). He performed awful. (Wisconsin OG) John Moffitt had a better broad jump and shuttle run! Ingram ran a 4.6 (40), his vertical was bad, it was awful.

“He still didn’t come here after his first year, but then after his second year in the NFL, that’s when he came and he started listening, and became a believer, and bought a Shredmill (a treadmill-like device that Tony patented), and then he bought a house down here, and I think it’s shown. That’s how (49ers WO) Anquan Boldin and (Bucs OB) Lavonte David and the Pounceys (Dolphins OC Mike and Steelers OC Maurkice) and (Redskins WO) Pierre Garcon all do it. They build their offseason around their offseason training. Not where their girl is, not anything else. They can party, do what they want, but they gotta build it around their offseason.”

They turn their weaknesses into strengths, or at least make their weaknesses adequate. Tony sees it in veterans training in the offseason, especially those who exercise the ’75 percent rule:’ “We call it our 75 percent rule. Everybody works out together in the morning for about two hours. The extra 25 percent is what everyone figures out they’re gonna do on their own. For the Pounceys, it might be more lifting. For Eric Berry, it might be more speed. For Byron Maxwell, it might be more flexibility in his hips. Maybe for linemen, it’s more boxing. We call them the 75 percenters, and they give you 75 percent in the morning, and the ‘lifers’ figure out what they’re weak on.

“Everyone thought (former Eagles and Vikings WO) Cris Carter caught a lot of balls in the offseason. They all say, he must catch a thousand, 500 balls a day. Well, I never saw him practice catching balls. He was really slow, and he worked on his weakness. Everybody wants to work on what they’re great at. (Their weakness) is what we try to focus on. They work out together in the morning, then in the afternoon they work on their weaknesses.”

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