By this Sunday, July 29th, all 32 NFL teams will be in training camp. Most teams have already begun their camps (Arizona players reported to camp on the 23rd), with just a few teams, like Oakland and Chicago, waiting a bit longer to get to work. Some players like to make a big show of reporting to camp. Pittsburgh defensive lineman Brett Keisel wins the “showstopper” prize this year for arriving at Steelers training camp (held in Latrobe, Pennsylvania) in a tractor (it took him an hour to go 20 miles):
Although images like these, and stories of rookie hazing and fist fights between teammates, give one the impression that training camp is just one extended frat party, this annual rite of passage is actually a critical time for teams. Rookies, who typically report several days before the veterans, have to learn how to play at the professional level. Along with the rookies, newly signed veterans have to learn the philosophies and playbooks of their new teams. Everyone wants to impress his coaches and teammates, and many are auditioning for a job or promotion on the depth chart. This is when you start hearing about “quarterback competitions” and veterans who are on the cusp of retirement but are hanging onto a fingernail’s hope that they’ll still be worth something to a team.*
On the business side, the start of training camp reveals what players plan to “hold out” while they continue to negotiate a new contract with their team. Of the more significant holdouts right now are Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew (left) and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace.
For the rest of us, though, the start of training camp is a bright spot in the lull that occurs every summer when the only major sport in America in season is baseball.
If you read my post earlier in the summer about OTAs and Minicamps, you’ll remember that there are rules about how the teams conduct their offseason training, and those rules are outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. As you might imagine, there are similar restrictions on how training camps run. Training camps last through the last weekend of the scheduled preseason games, so the CBA’s rules apply until that time. Below is a summary of the rules on how teams can get physically prepared for the upcoming season.
The Beginning of Camp:
· Players can’t be required to report more than 15 days before the first preseason game;
· Activity on the first day of camp is limited to meetings, classroom instruction and physical exams (running and conditioning are allowed, however); and
· No contact and no pads during the second and third days of camp.
· Maximum four hours on the field per day;
· Only one padded practice per day, and it can last for no more than 3 hours;
· There must be at least three hours between practice sessions; and
· The second practice session in the day can only consist of “walk-through” instruction (i.e., no helmets and walking pace after the snap)
· Quarterbacks, kickers, punters and long snappers can wear a helmet at their option;
· A player can wear a helmet if instructed to do so by club physicians as a precaution because of a head injury; and
· If the QB or designated defensive player needs his helmet to receive communication from coaching staff (for an explanation of coach-to-player communications, see the post “Breaker, Breaker… What’s Your Handle?”)
If you’re curious about what happens during training camp, you may get a chance to see for yourself. Keep an eye out for announcements from your local team for days when practice is open to the public. I went to see a Redskins practice back in 2009 and it was pretty interesting. It also wasn’t terribly crowded (it was a steamy, drizzly day), so it wasn’t too hard to see what was happening. One of my favorite drills involved the quarterbacks—one would stand in the middle of a circle formed by the other QBs and some coaches. He would try to pass the ball to the guys in the circle while everyone else pegged him with huge rubber balls:
OK, so maybe training camp can seem a little like Romper Room and a frat party. They got down to business eventually, though, and had a scrimmage between the offense and defense:
*For an outsider’s perspective on an NFL training camp, check out our book club’s selection Paper Lion.