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Tips For Watching Training Camp Practices

With the Washington Redskins first open training camp practice on Saturday, fans were finally able to get their first look at the 2011 Redskins. As bleeders of burgundy and gold poured over lists and tweets to try and figure out who that guy was wearing number XX, the players were out on the field working hard.

Ok, ok, ok… they weren’t working that hard. As a matter of fact, as anyone who has been to training camp on a regular basis knows, fans aren’t going to glean a whole lot of information or reach many conclusions at one of these practices. They are as ‘vanilla’ as they could possibly be. They have been that way, and will continue to be that way, as long as practices are open to the public. After all, if Joe Q. RedskinFan can go to a practice and check out new formations and trick plays, and the like, then technically so can another team’s scouts.

Did you know that moving forward there will be even less chance of a fan seeing anything approaching a full speed practice? The new NFL Collective Barganing Agreement (CBA) will see to that. Part of the new CBA is that players will only be permitted to wear full pads for practice on a limited basis – even during the regular season! Some information that you might want to know – these are unofficial clauses from the CBA about preseason (training camp) workouts:

- 1st day limited to physicals and meetings
- 2nd and 3rd day no pads or contact
- Only one padded practice per day limited to three hours with the second practice up to the 4 hour limit being a walk through

When you compound the new rules, with the fact that the NFL lockout also eliminated offseason workouts and OTA’s, it’s easy to understand how there is concern about players getting injured. Coach Mike Shanahan addressed that point yesterday, “We haven’t decided, but it probably won’t be this next week. I want to keep out of pads for a while. I can’t say the whole week, but I’m leaning that direction.” (from the Official Redskins Blog)

So don’t expect to see much at practice next week Redskins fans, and it’s easy to understand the logic.

Strangely enough, practices will even be limited during the regular season. As per the unofficial CBA again:

Regular / Postseason
- Limit of 14 total padded practices during the Regular season, 11 of which must be held during the first 11 weeks (club may hold 2 padded practices during only one week) with the remaining 3 during the final 6 weeks
- One padded practice per week in postseason
- Padded practices limited to three hours
- Bye Weeks – (five) consecutive days off

So read that carefully my fellow Redskin fans, and try to absorb what it is saying, only ONE padded practice per week for the first 11 weeks of the season. You CANNOT practice at full speed without any pads on. There is just a natural tendency for one to protect oneself more when you aren’t wearing any pads. Am I the only one that is concerned about this? This is supposed to cut down on injuries? I understand the premise behind the decision, but I don’t find the solution logical at all. Football is a brutal sport, professional football is near barbaric. It is the controlled fury that draws many of us into it’s waiting wings. Sure guys get hurt at practice, but in my opinion, more will be hurt in games due to not being prepared for the increased intensity on game day.

So while I trust and agree with Coach Shanahan’s decision to hold off a bit longer, I hope it is with the understanding that there is going to be precious few practices in general to do good work. When you consider the many new faces at training camp, the lack of intensity is going to make cohesiveness a potential stumbling block for the Redskins early in the season. Teams with more carryover from last year’s roster will have a shorter distance to travel, and thusly, a distinct advantage over teams that have many new starters – starters that will have had only a handful of full speed practices with their new teammates.

But I digress… and have done so for long enough. This blog is about what to expect to see at camp, so my point is merely that fans can’t expect to see much of anything in such an environment.

Nevertheless, an astute football observer can still garner some value out of these vanilla practices if you know what to look for. So what follows are my top five things that you might find useful when going to a training camp practice.

Tip 1: Pay less attention to the flashy happenings that make fans go, “Wooooooooo” and pay more attention to the ‘boring’ things that might actually end up being the most important. Here are some examples:

a) The receiver that caught the laid out, in coverage, one handed grab is definitely great to see and cheer; but the receiver running the tightest routes, and distancing himself from the coverage is perhaps a more telling sign.
b) The offensive line isn’t going to smash anyone in the mouth and would seem insignificant to watch, but pay attention to WHO is lining up and when. Who is playing on the first unit, versus the second and third? Pay attention to the combinations. Coaches might try new guards on either side to gauge their effectiveness. They might not be going hard, but you can at least get a sense of pecking orders, and depth.
c) For defensive line help, see previous OL notes. You aren’t going to get to see Rak blow past many people, at a no pads practice. On the defensive side of the ball, given that there is a likelihood of seeing a hybrid 3-4 defense that has some 4-3 alignments, watch for those special schemes. Watch who goes to what position when they are in a 4-3. Watch for what new players come into the front seven in such situations.
d) When the various units are warming up, they typically do sprints – who is winning the races? I’m not implying that it tells you who is the fastest at that position, not in a drill, but it may give you an idea of who is the hungriest, or who is the most prepared at this moment. When a guy constantly wins every race, and he might not be the fastest guy in that unit, it is often because of the fact that they are working the hardest.

Tip 2: Pay attention to the coaches! You might not be able to tell when somebody did something right at first glance, but you will certainly be able to see who did something wrong. Look for the guy having his ear ripped off and thrown on the field. (This is especially true if it is on Special Teams and Danny Smith is involved)

Tip 3: Pay attention to Danny Smith! No football reason other than what’s stated in Tip 2 – the suggestion is purely for entertainment. The guy is awesome out there. He’ll make you want to go smack your own mother in the mouth if she happens to errantly pick up your football. ( Not really mom – you know I love you. )

Tip 4: Watch special teams like a hawk. Again, you might not get to see guys at their best, but you can see what new recruits are getting time on teams. Many young players have to make their mark on special teams to crack a roster. Are any of the new free agents, or rookies being given a long look returning kicks or punts? Once again, the ‘hustle factor’ is often more noticeable on ST play, so look for it.

Tip 5: Pay attention to the intangibles. Just because guys aren’t in pads and whacking each other, doesn’t mean that you can’t pay attention to what veterans are playing a leadership role. What players take other players aside and give them advice? What players are still out on the field after practice doing wind sprints in the brutal heat?

Today on Twitter I asked @MrDCSports, a very knowledgeable Redskins fan whose opinion and observations I value, what his overall impressions of practice yesterday were. His response was not something I expected, but something that was very astute, “Overall this team looks happy to play for coach Shanahan this year, can’t wait till more guys can go. Guys know jobs are on the line & Shanahan means business, so they’re not playing with lack of effort”

His conclusion: “With Shanny, guys seen last year that he doesn’t play that crap, so ppl just come ready to do work now.”

That’s good stuff. That’s looking at more than just what’s in front of you.

Follow that lead Redskin fans, and you’ll get more out of watching a practice.

Hopefully if you follow those five tips, you too can get more out of a practice this year at training camp. Come away with a more informed opinion than, “Man that practice was vanilla.” If that’s the only conclusion that you came to, then you just weren’t watching closely enough. Enjoy your Redskins brethren and sisterhood at practice, enjoy the great outdoors, and most of all, have a good time out there. I’ll leave you with one last bonus tip:

Bonus Tip – Tip 6: Pay attention to if the cheerleaders are present or not. This isn’t very helpful for the lady Redskin fans, but it’s very important for the men. As an important side note gentlemen, this is a tip that requires great vision and some tact… as in, make sure that if you brought your girfriend or wife, you don’t point out the cheerleaders! We all have excellent peripheral vision men – use it. Or you’re likely to get a wallop on the head, followed by a less than ideal practice session. Please use tip 6 wisely.

Whatever you see when you’re at practice, post your thoughts on our message board, or to me on Twitter @TheHogsdotNet. We all benefit from knowledge – even from what seems like the slightest of information.

Hail!

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