With just two weeks remaining until the official start of the Washington Redskins training camp, it seemed prudent to go over what fans should be looking for when they go to a practice at Redskin Park.
This will be the third training camp under Joe Gibbs since he returned for his second tenure. Every year, Coach Gibbs gives fans a little taste of his mild paranoia. Training camp 'open' practices have become so vanilla and generic, that it's doubtful that even the most astute of observers could draw many solid conclusions.
So what should you look for when you're at practice?
New Faces: The modern day NFL team sees many roster changes in an off season. Be sure to take an updated roster with you to practice, so that you can see how new players are doing. THN will post a printable camp guide this week that you should take with you, because a full listing of players' names and numbers will definitely help you figure out who is who. When you know who the new players are, you can watch how they interact with their new teammates as well as how they do on the field. You can also watch for the existing senior players that help those new players familiarize themselves. You can learn a lot at training camp by paying attention to what happens off the field.
Offensive and Defensive units: You may not be able to tell how well individuals look in most drills, but you can certainly see who's lining up with who. Sometimes a lot of knowledge can be garnered just by paying attention to where a guy fits in a rotation of a particular unit. For example, where does new offensive lineman Mike Pucillo fit in? Who's he backing up most often? How about Jim Molinaro? Is he seeing more time at guard or at tackle and which side is he lining up at the most?
Injuries: Who's NOT dressed? Who's still recovering from off-season surgery? If you know a player hasn't been injured recently, but is sitting out practice, then you know he's easing back into things. If you go to several practices over the few weeks, you may see guys that are seeing more action, and consequently you know that their recovery is progressing.
Attitudes: Pay attention to the looks on player's faces. Do they look frustrated? Are they getting angry? Even in vanilla drills, guys want to perform to their fullest potential. And what about the opposite? Who are the guys that come into camp looking comfortable and at ease? These are the guys that probably had a strong off-season and might make the biggest impact in 2006.
Coaches: There's no shortage of coaches at Redskin Park, and each one will have 'good days' and 'bad days'. Bank on the good days being the ones that their respective unit is performing well. If you see Joe Bugel screaming at the offensive linemen, chances are that they're not executing.
Special Teams: This is about the only unit that will practice at near full speed and for a couple of different reasons. This is the unit where the fringe players will earn their stripes, and this is one area that emotions run high. Fans can watch closely to see who exactly is returning kicks and punts, as all special teams drills will be conducted directly in front of them. Who drops too many balls? Who never drops any? Who's making big tackles down field on coverage? Who's getting extra repetitions? Who's first out of the box to field kicks, who's last? These things don't tell a fan who's actually playing well, but they may give an indication as to the coaches' perceived pecking order. And for the record, if Danny Smith is running up and down the field screaming and yelling at players - that doesn't mean anything. He's just an intense guy.
One thing is for sure, it doesn't really matter what you go to practice to see; you'll always see your fellow Redskin fans. Perhaps the best part of training camp is just hanging out with some friends on a beautiful summer day, and getting a glimpse of how the football team is looking early on. So that's another thing that you should always pay attention to at training camp - the smile on everybody's face.