Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports



NFL players are currently enjoying the time off that they have between their offseason program and the start of minicamp. However, that doesn't mean that they will use the approximately six weeks to just relax at home. Many will take part in outside training programs, workouts, and other activities to keep in shape and better prepare their minds and bodies for training camp and the regular season.

One such player who has taken the initiative during players' time off is Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who leads what has been described as a "gruesome" workout in the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. The player-led program also includes workouts at the Hawaii Optimum Performance gym in Honolulu as well as other locations on the island. This year's training program will kick off next week.

In 2015, Bennett worked out side-by-side with just teammate Cliff Avril. Last year, the group expanded to include about a dozen NFL players, including San Francisco 49ers defensive linemen Arik Armstead and then-rookie DeForest Buckner.

"I didn't even know Mike and he just texted me out of the blue," Buckner said last year. "Just learning from him, I am very grateful."

The 10-day program includes running and agility drills and, this year, Armstead and Buckner won't be the only 49ers taking part. Linebacker Eli Harold, who was on the Taylor Price Talk podcast this week, said that he and Ronald Blair would be joining Armstead and Buckner in Hawaii to train with Bennett and numerous other NFL players.

Together, the group will work on cardio and pass-rushing techniques in order to improve their overall game and lengthen their careers. It's interesting because the 49ers and Seahawks are in the same division. So a highly respected defensive end like Bennett working with players from a division rival to help improve their game is admirable and it is something that the participants have come to appreciate.

Last year, Buckner said that he picked up some of Bennett's pass-rush moves during the training program. Buckner went on to play in 1,007 regular season snaps and compiled 73 tackles and six sacks. The veterans within the group of participants – like then-Detroit Lions defensive end Wallace Gilberry (now with the Cincinnati Bengals) – also helped Buckner with his footwork.

"Just a whole bunch of different moves," Buckner said. "Just working on our hands and making it more natural so when we get into situations in the game, we know what to do."

What does Bennett hope to accomplish with his training program?

"I just want to show people that Hawaii is just as good as Arizona or Florida or California to train," Bennett said last year. "I want athletes from around the world to know that there's a place that they can come to in Hawaii and also have an atmosphere where they can have fun with their family. You know, all the other places you go to, LA, it's not fun for your kids. Hawaii is fun for your kids, snorkeling, and everything. So why not come here and train with us at our gym?"

Armstead was the 49ers' second-highest graded pass rusher last season behind just Buckner, according to Pro Football Focus. However, a shoulder injury that had plagued him since training camp ended his season early.

"A lot of people don't see the hard work that we put in on the offseason," Armstead said last year prior to his second trip to Bennett's training program. "I think they think everyone is just relaxing and chilling, but we're preparing for the year. We're training hard and I think it will pay off in the year."

Harold, a newcomer to the training program, said on the Taylor Price Talk podcast that he gained 23 pounds last offseason at the request of the 49ers' previous regime.

"I just want to get back to my old ways, man," Harold said. "I feel like I have yet to really do that because rookie year, I was very uncomfortable being a rookie and just learning the ropes. And then last year, I blew up like a freaking balloon and I've never been as big. I feel like that played a part in my toe injury being that heavy when I've never been that big. Gaining 23 pounds in the offseason is just unheard of in the NFL.

"Being at the weight I am now, I feel very comfortable, very explosive. I feel like I got a little more pep in my step. I got my step back so all that is going to help me going into year three. I'm excited. It's a real big year for me. I feel like I have a lot to prove not only to fans but to the rest of the NFL. I can't wait, man. I'm definitely going to play with a big chip on my shoulder this year."

Harold spoke about his first trip to Bennett's training program.

"Being with a guy like Michael, first and foremost, he's in the top 100 each and every year," Harold said. "That's a place where I want to be in the near future so picking his brain is first and foremost what I'm going to do and the main reason why I wanted to go to Hawaii with those guys."

Harold also said that another important aspect of the trip is bonding with his teammates and absorbing as much knowledge from the numerous players that will be participating.

"What I learn there, we'll be able to bring that back," Harold added.

* Some quotes from last year courtesy of KHON2 in Hawaii