Back to camp: Standing on sidelines offers new perspective

Publish date:

Training camps and real football are finally here, and this year I am joining colleague Peter King on the first leg of his annual training camp tour to both check out some teams and learn from Mr. MMQB. As luck would have it, our first two stops were to the teams I most identify with from my playing career: the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins. I think of those teams often because I spent the most time with them, starting and finishing my career with the Redskins while receiving the most playing time in Buffalo. Still, I hadn't been back to either camp since I stopped playing for those franchises, and there are a number of things about training camp and going back to my roots that jumped out at me now that I am on the other side of the white lines.

• It is unbearably hot. Sweating profusely while watching from the sidelines really had me wondering: How the heck I was able to run around and practice in full gear weighing more than 300 pounds? No wonder there were many practices in which I would lose six to eight pounds, despite downing gallons of water and Gatorade. Practicing in full pads in the dead of summer is definitely not on my list of things I miss about playing in the NFL.

• These dudes are big. When you are playing in the NFL, hanging out with guys that are 6 feet at the smallest and weigh around 300 pounds, you kind of lose sight of how abnormal these specimens are. These aren't your average heavyset guys. Coming back to camp and seeing how surprisingly lean and muscular these guys look despite their impressive mass is eye-opening. Normal people just don't look like that.

• Going back is a little awkward. I wasn't exactly sure how I would feel about going back and speaking with so many guys I had played with, but it turned out to be better than I anticipated. More than a couple of them gave me flak now that I am a member of the dreaded media, but in the end, their teasing was all in good fun and actually made me feel like I was one of them again. I realized that there wasn't all that much I miss about the training camp aspect of professional football. Sure, I would love to have the opportunity to get out there for a snap or two and try to light somebody up. But other than that, training camp is truly the worst part of the profession. Truth be told, the only thing I admired fondly was the abundance of free drinks and the massive training table

• Training camps are huge productions. You are so focused on the task at hand while you are a player that you never really appreciate or notice the amount of work and staffing that goes into these camps. Marketing people tending to the VIP sponsors, or simply selling merchandise to the average fan. Security personnel everywhere, making sure no one infiltrates football operations. The food services staff, enhanced training and equipment personnel, media relations, community relations -- all come with doing business in the modern NFL. Fortunately for these teams, there is a long list of people who are so eager to be associated with the league that they will volunteer their time and expend considerable effort in the hope that they get noticed by a decision maker within the organization.

• Some of these drills are pointless. I know there is a purpose to everything a team does on the field. There has to be, as practice time is precious. But watching some of the individual drills, especially by some of my brethren in the trenches, really made me wonder how much of an impact those mundane exercises really have on Sundays in the fall. I am a big believer that technique wins, and you can never refine your skills too much. But that doesn't mean I think some of the paces coaches put their players through really have any discernible effect on their game.

You forgot the Bucs QB competition. It at LEAST should have been mentioned when you talked about Sanchez and Stafford."-- Peter, Orlando, Fla.

You're probably right, but I think you used the wrong term when you called their situation a "competition." It is much more like what I said about Sanchez and Stafford in that the job will be handed to first-round pick Josh Freeman as soon as he is ready. Unlike with Stafford and Sanchez, who I think will both start in their team's opener, it may take a little while before Freeman hits the field. But I'm convinced Freeman will get the starting slot, especially since the Bucs look like they're going to struggle this season.

Ross: I think it's interesting that you and others in the press, and the athletes themselves, make such a big deal about having to "go away" for training camp and having to work hard. I've slept on the dirt in Afghanistan for several nights supporting war-fighters, and athletes worry about sleeping in dorms. They play a game and get paid very well. I'd sleep in a dorm room for a month out of the year if I was making millions.-- Mike, Grants Pass, Ore.

Great point, Mike, and thank you so much for your service to our country. I think the rigors of training camp are much more difficult than most occupations, but certainly not all, and your example is a great testament to that. In fact, when you put it like that, camp really isn't all that terrible and I think the majority of the players are aware of how blessed they are to even have the opportunity to be in an NFL camp.

With Favre's "retirement," I'm surprised you didn't mention the Vikings QB battle between Sage Rosenfels and Tavaris Jackson.-- Robert, Houston, Texas

Good point. I actually wrote and filed the column before Favre's announcement, but the QB competition in Minnesota will be fierce and is definitely one of the most intriguing to watch unfold over the next four weeks. That said, I expect Rosenfels to win the job because the Vikings traded for him for a reason. Love that you put retirement in quotations as it relates to Favre.

Hey Ross, love your work! Can you please talk about the pads, (or lack thereof,) that NFL players wear on their legs? I know, personally, from my playing days that hip, coccyx (butt), thigh and knee pads were required equipment. However, I don't see any NFL players wearing hip or butt pads, and many players -- WRs and DBs in particular -- don't appear to wear any padding at all on their legs. What gives? You'd think they would want the protection; NFL careers are short enough as it is.-- Marty, Plaistow, N.H.

I have never even seen a hip or butt pad in the NFL, which is funny when you consider that they are mandatory both in high school and in the NCAA. Wearing those two in particular isn't even an option, and obviously they are deemed unnecessary. As for the other pads, getting a bruised thigh or knee aren't really the types of injuries most players are worried about; a torn ACL or patella tendon, or something of that nature, have nothing to do with padding. Many players, especially at the skill positions, think the extra padding slows them down. For that reason, they are willing to sacrifice some added protection in order to, at least in their mind, enhance their performance.

Tweet of the week: @mark_ricci asks @SI_RossTucker do you see any resentment from the other Bills players to all the attention T.O. is getting?

Not at all, and I was really looking for some. The Bills are lucky to have a group of guys that really doesn't care for the spotlight all that much and are happy to give it to T.O., who is more than willing to accept it. I was especially interested in what the reaction would be from Lee Evans, but when I spoke with him, he really didn't mind in the slightest and was just excited about seeing some potentially more favorable coverages come his way this season.