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Don’t get me wrong. I have enjoyed each visit to training camp this season, as have my family. And friends. It’s done fantastically, and it’s a great, up-close football experience.
But it just seems silly.
I’m actually not talking about all the extra stuff. If you’ve ever been to Bills training camp at St. John Fisher College here in Rochester, you’ll recall that it’s quite a production. When you first arrive – by RTS bus, as there is no parking on campus – you are herded through a large, air-conditioned tent full of everything the Buffalo Bills Pro Shop sells. It’s the mobile Bills store, conveniently placed at the entrance to the free training camp. Very good marketing. 🙂
In addition to all the Bills gear, you get to stroll past maybe a dozen or so vendors/marketers who also have their booths set up to offer you their wares (or services) as you pass by. Once you do exit the tent, and head for the practice fields, there are still a few more vendors set up just outside the tent. Only four to six more perhaps. You’re almost to the football part!
As you approach the main field, there are also a few food vendors on the right, however. 🙂
Again, I actually really like all of this. It makes it feel fun. Big. Exciting. This Tuesday, Turkey Hill Dairy was represented there, and they were giving out FREE, decent-sized samples of their Buffalo Bills Stampede Sundae ice cream! That was awesome!! 🙂
When you finally do get to the football – if you have kids with you – you will notice that there is a large “interactive area” set up just past the playing fields. It’s chock full of inflated bouncy things, and more chock full of children. They can push through the Bills-colored inflatable obstacle courses, or toss footballs through big inflated football players hands, or even play basketball? (That one is sort of out of place…) 🙂 It’s tons of fun, and well used by visitors ages 12 and under. (Including most of the Campbells!)
But again… this article is not about all of the extras that make Bills training camp one of the best free events you can be part of, and probably one of the best NFL training camps, at least for the fans.
Now, for the players – or, as a strictly football fan – each visit to training camp this year has just made me wonder, “What is the point?” Is it only for the marketing aspect? I mean, it certainly does that well. Bills fans come out in droves for this carnival experience where they get to be very up-close and personal with their favorite football team (the guys are literally only a few yards away from where you can sit or stand, and there are many opportunities to get autographs, photographs, or even chat briefly with the players.) and all of this is free. (Basically free. A $1 donation for folks over the age of 12 gets you free public transportation to and fro.)
But the practices almost seem silly.
First, the players are often not in pads. They are just “going through the motions”. Motions are good. They are necessary. The players need to know how the plays unfold. They need to know where they should be. But do they really? If they are not actually in pads, they’re not going full speed. And if they come close, they don’t finish the plays. It’s not the real deal. I’m know there’s a place for that speed of practice, but it dominates training camp, and rightfully so. You don’t want to go full speed against your own team. You want to save that for another team.
Which is precisely my point. Even when they are running at full speed, they don’t finish the plays. The defense gets in position to make the tackle, but never gets to make it. The offense is running plays that the defense already knows. The defensive linemen never get to hit the QB.
(Funny story… there’s a guy whom I do not think is a coach, but has been an on-field assistant for as many camps as I can remember. He’s not big at all. He’s a relatively small guy. But he’s obviously tough. They put him in as the “QB” taking the snaps on a DL drill. Well, I guess he was trash talking, trying to get the linemen fired up. It worked. A couple of times these nearly 300-pound guys pancaked this tiny sub-200-pound guy. And he’d just get up and taunt them some more! I talked to him afterward and he said he kept asking them, “Where was that on Friday??” Crazy man.) 🙂
What I suggested on our show was that instead of 5 or 6 weeks of training camp, cut it down to a maximum of three weeks. And, instead of four or even five meaningless pre-season games, cut that down to two (or a maximum of three, with those bonus games like the Hall of Fame game) and add two games to the regular season. Make the games count. Make it worth getting out there and risking injury. But even better, make it worth playing. Make it real football.
Interestingly, I am not alone in these thoughts. A reporter (not sure who) asked Jauron in a press conference this week what he thought about just that idea. Shortening training camp and pre-season, and making two of the pre-season game regular season games. Jauron hesitated and said, “You know what I’m going to say, right? (Another pause.) Talk to the league office.” There was laughter, and when asked if he had an opinion, he said he did, but he was not going to share it.
Apparently, coach would like to see less meaningless football as well.
It only makes sense. How can you really practice if you’re not really playing football?? But why would you play real football – against your own team for six weeks?? Of course you wouldn’t. It makes sense to take it easy “until it counts”. Well, MAKE IT COUNT.
And, let’s not forget that we fans are shelling out the same amount of dollars to see this so-called football. Pre-season games are a step up from training camp practices, obviously, but they still carry that feeling of “meaninglessness”. The “real” players don’t play much – if at all, LT – and the goal of the game is almost never to win, unless it comes down to a two-minute drill situation at the end. Then they’re still not trying to win, they’re just practicing their two-minute drill. (I do have to admit, that is when is starts to be real football, as there is an actual goal in sight, even if the end result is “meaningless”.)
Camp is fun. Keep it. It’s a great experience for the fans, and I’d have to imagine that a lot of good comes from it for the players and coaches. But you can probably get a lot more out of playing actual football. I would even keep the roster cut-down dates the way they are. Play two regular season games with maybe 70 players. See how the guys who are really right on the fringe do in a game that matters. You’ve seen all of the guys the entire off season in mini camps and other team activities. You know what they can do. If you as a coach don’t want to put them in when the game really counts… then why would you keep them on the team, anyway?
It does sound a little crazy, but those were some of my main thoughts as I sat there watching pseudo-football at training camp this past week, and on our visit three weeks ago. Remember, it was totally enjoyable, and we’re heading back for the Monday night practice – and I can’t wait. But it seems like our team would be better served if they weren’t in this “practice” mode for so long. If they’re going to practice, shouldn’t they actually be doing what they are practicing?
My vote is to make the practice more real by making the meaningless part shorter. And though he can’t say it, it sounded like Coach Jauron is with me.
How about it, NFL?
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