Here are five things to watch for early at training camps around the NFL as they are set to begin late this week after a long dead period for players and coaches.
In no particular order, here they are …
1. Shape of things to come: Over the last five weeks or so, most players in the NFL have had off after a long period of workouts, minicamps, etc. With the heat of August just around the corner, how have your favorite players been spending their time? Have they done daily running and lifting at their team’s facility or with a trainer or have they maybe spent more time at the beach or on the golf course than the workout room? Veteran players know the drill and are usually ready to go, while draftees and college free agents usually get a shock at the level of work they have to perform right away since they were not in pads during the spring. Falling behind one or more days because you have to be on the bike or doing conditioning work is not acceptable when you are battling for a roster spot.
2. Speed racers: Usually the first thing that comes out of a rookie’s mouth when talking to the media in the spring is a discussion of how fast everything goes at the NFL level. That speed goes up a notch when camp opens and the pads start popping. Those who have studied their playbooks intently and are in shape will stand out right away to the coaching staff. That’s why coaches will throw so much at rookies in the spring during the first minicamp or two. They want to see how they mentally react on the field when they are tired and the sun is beating down on them. Remember, no pads and contact in the spring. The fatigue level increases each day in training camp.
3. Back to school: Even when players get off the field, the work is not done. Players are constantly in meetings with position coaches and coordinators before and after practice. They want to go back to the dorm room or hotel room and sleep, but they need to study their playbooks and the material they got in the meetings. Paying attention in the classroom is a key component of success at the NFL level, especially for young players.
4. Medic!: Players will tell you that there is a big difference from playing hurt and being injured. Every player on the field has aches, pains, sore muscles, etc. You have to practice and play with those on a daily basis. Being injured gets you off the field and in the training room to see a doctor. Young players have to know the difference. The rule of thumb is that if you are held out of practice, you either have to be in rehab in the training room, or on the stationary bike outside during practice. There is no standing around because coaches want players to be uncomfortable with being off the field. If you attend Ravens camp regularly, see how many players are on the bikes (or working with trainers off to the side of the practice fields) and for how many days. If a player is on the bike and is not reported to have a injury (not pulls or strains, etc.) in press conferences, etc., then you can assume that conditioning level issues are keeping them off.
5. Watch your tone: How are practices being conducted at camp is something for fans to watch. Not the first two or three days when there is a tone being set by the staff or the adrenalin is kicking in for coaches and players, but a week or ten days in. Are the coaches still having players sprint between drills and keeping a fast pace on the field or have they backed off and letting details slide somewhat? When the weather is bearing down during the “dog days” of camp, how are players reacting on the field? At that point, they are tired of hitting their teammates and want to take it out on someone in an opposite-colored helmet. That’s when you see skirmishes and fights because people are battling for roster spots.