An Unfiltered Look at NFL Training Camps Across the League

Remember the anticipation of dropping off a disposable camera at Walgreens? Not knowing what photos you took, if your thumb blocked the lens, or if you remembered to turn on the flash. There was always a surprise photo or two to be found somewhere in the envelope of prints. That experience feels foreign now, with advanced iPhones cameras as the typical medium for photography. There are so many editing apps and tinted filters, that nearly every photo posted on social media or anywhere on the internet has been tweaked and toyed with, and certainly required dozens of attempts to stage the scene just right.

The disposable camera is the antithesis of today’s obsession with perfecting every image before it’s published. There’s no editing process, and aside from squinting your eyes and staring through the narrow rectangular lens, there’s no way to be sure what you’ve actually captured in the frame. There’s no instant gratification. You have to wait to take all 27 photos in the roll, and then wait some more for the drug store to process your film. The images are raw and real. The hazy tint could be its own Instagram filter, labeled nostalgia.

With this idealistic vision in mind, Sports Illustrated gave a FujiFilm disposable camera to six players on six different NFL teams with the goal of capturing the realness of training camp and preseason. The players delivered, but not without a thumb over the lens, or some dark shots desperately in need of flash. These are their photos: an unfiltered view of the NFL preseason grind.


Oakland Raiders running back Doug Martin was placed on injured reserve shortly after completing this project. Martin, in his second year in Oakland and eighth overall in the NFL, took these photos over the course of a week at Raiders training camp held in Napa, Calif., at the Napa Valley Marriott. His future in Oakland is uncertain, as he could be released with an injury settlement in the near future. Martin, a two-time Pro Bowler, established himself in Tampa Bay where he spent his first six seasons, but he’s an Oakland native. He was the Raiders lead rusher last year, but the team seemed ready to move on from him when Oakland drafted a running back in the first round, Josh Jacobs.

Martin’s photography tactics might explain why many of his photo subjects look surprised. “When I took pictures, everybody was pretty confused as to why I was using a disposable camera,” he laughs. “I didn't even explain it. I just took the picture and I left.”

Not pictured: Hard Knocks cameras. 

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in locker room.

D.M.: “Derek went to Fresno State, and I went to Boise State, and we always go back and forth, because they played each other in the conference championship last year. They won the championship last year, so I am betting on my boys to bring it home this year.”

Raiders rookie tight end Foster Moreau (L) and long snapper Trent Sieg. 

Doug Martin: “We had a few chess boards out, and when we have some down time, a lot of guys will play chess. I’m definitely a chess guy. My dad played chess, so I learned the game from him growing up. I’m pretty nice on it. Everybody plays with a certain person, their closest teammate or friend on the team, I play with [running back] Jalen Richard mostly. So, there’s no Raiders chess champion or anything like that.”

Running back Jalen Richard in the foreground. Left to right: running backs coach Kirby Wilson, running back James Butler, fullback Keith Smith, Bill Walsh Diversity Fellowship coach Michael Spurlock. 

D.M.: “Our position room was in a hotel room on the first floor, we take out the bed and put the projector in there, and that's where we had our meetings. We’ve got good chemistry in the running back room. Everybody does a good job of keeping each other accountable in the room and we like to have a good time, but also on a serious note, we do care about winning. We have two new rookies, Josh Jacobs and Alec Ingold.

The whiteboard in the background says: 

GOOD RB ROOM= GOOD TEAM 
ACCOUNTABILITY!
ATTENTION TO DETAILS!
And… 
ROOKIES GHETTO PATROL.

D.M.: “That's when the rookies have to clean up the room, if there is any mess on the floor. We have the rookies go get us some snacks, like Cheetos, Pringles, candy. So if there are snacks on the ground, that's their rookie duty. We don't purposely leave a mess for them. We've treated the rookies pretty nicely this year, they've had an easy time this camp.”

Rookie safety Johnathan Abram in a cowboy outfit.

D.M.: “That was a pregame outfit. I didn’t ask him about it, I just saw it and I took a picture of it, I said, I can't pass this moment up. I liked it. He's bold and stylish, and that's fashion.” 

A training staff member stretches a Raiders player. 

D.M.: “You gotta take care of your body, it’s pretty grueling. The most challenging part is getting your body ready for the next day and getting your mind refreshed so you'll be able to go the next day. Just being mentally there, because it is very easy to get lost in the days and the grind.”


Justin Reid, a second-year safety for the Texans and the younger brother of Panthers safety Eric Reid, led the team as a rookie last season with three interceptions, including one against Washington QB Alex Smith, that he returned 101 yards for a touchdown. The Texans lost veteran safeties Tyrann Mathieu, Andre Hal, and Kareem Jackson this offseason, so Reid enters this year as the starting free safety. Reid took his turn as the Texans photographer on Thursday, Aug. 1, on a predictably steamy day in Houston at Houston Methodist Training Center in the shadow of the Texans stadium. It was the team’s first practice open to fans, and Reid had some fun with them in his photos. You’ll notice Reid wears a combination of three arm bands, two on one arm, one on the other. It’s his signature look. “Look good, feel good, play good,” he says. “It's definitely more of a look thing, but it actually does help when you dive on turf, it eats up some of the friction."

Justin Reid: "I try to stay out there as long as I can. It’s hot as hell in Houston and the fans are coming out here to support, they are standing in the sun, and I remember what it was like being a kid and being able to see some of your favorite players. On this day I was out there for an hour and a half. I usually wait until they tell me, 'Hey, bro, you have 10 minutes before you have to get to meetings.'"

"Usually I get a new pair of cleats for every game week. I’ll save them after the game and around this time of year, I'll bring an old pair and sign them and give them away. They get torn up so fast anyway. On this day I brought a pair of cleats out from the locker room to give to some kids and then I felt bad because these other kids wanted them too so I just took off my cleats. I really didn’t want to give those away, but I ended up giving those away too."

 

Reid gets taped with assistant athletic trainer, Chris Barrett.

J.R.: "I do the same thing with the same guy every single day. I got Chris [Barrett], my main guy and Uriah [Myrie], my backup guy and I won't go to anybody else. Chris had me back in college at Stanford, and now we’re both down here in Houston. I just believe in the same guy doing it the same, because you know what to expect, you know what you’re getting. My main style [for my ankle] is called a speed tape, it gives protection but it's not a whole lot, so it allows you to still be mobile and move quickly." 

Texans center/guard Greg Mancz gets taped up before training.

J.R.: "The offensive line, they are always a bunch of characters. Especially Greg. He’s like the juice man. Whenever we do our team warmups and breakdowns, he is the guy you see at the center of the circle with his face red getting everybody hyped up."

 The Texans’ locker room.

J.R.: "That was our cheat day, pizza in the locker room. It was a surprise to us, it just showed up there on the ping pong table. We have a nutritionist so we have all of our food planned out every day of the week and that just happened to be a cheat day. I had the meat lover’s pizza, and it went fast. I don’t know if everybody got some, but I know I did."

 J.R.: "[Now that I’m not a rookie anymore], I've learned the confidence and the swagger about it. I know all the plays, I know my teammates, I'm more confident reading offenses now. Like last year, I was getting on the field and I was so scared of making a mistake. Now, that fear is nonexistent." 

Danielle Hunter, a defensive end for the Vikings heading into his fifth season in the league, is coming off of a career year that ended in his first Pro Bowl selection. He tallied 14½ sacks in 2018, tied with Von Miller for fourth-most in the league. He’s only 24 years old, but Hunter says some of his even younger teammates didn’t know what to make of his old-school camera. “I posted a picture of the disposable camera on my Snapchat, and people were like, is that a disposable camera?” Hunter laughs. “Especially nowadays, the younger generation is like what is that?”

Hunter at his locker.

D.H.: “I have a lot of jerseys in my locker that I get from players around the league. It's a tradition whenever I go against somebody on the opposing team that played at LSU, we jersey swap after the game, like [Seattle LB] Barkevious Mingo and [Tampa Bay LB] Kevin Minter. I’ll also swap with people that are really good competitors against me. Like the Bears right tackle, [Bobby Massie], I go against him every year and last year we just decided to swap jerseys because he is a good player, somebody who I respect. Eventually I will take them home and frame them, but right now I keep them in my locker and collect them until I decide I have too many. I'll clear them out before the season starts and then start collecting them again.”

There’s a sign at his locker that says, “Why the [water emoji]? A: Prevention” which reminds him to take a hydration test before practice. 

D.H.: “At camp, hydration is the number one thing. You must be hydrated before practice in order to practice. We get our hydration tests, a pee test, and you have to pass it every day or you can't go on the field at practice. That’s what that sign is telling me. They don't want any pulled muscles or anything like that. I drink Pedialyte after the practice and in the morning, it’s something that you basically live off of. It hydrates you better than water, the orange flavor is my favorite.” 

 A selfie of Hunter in front of a car.

D.H.: “That’s actually not my car. It was a random moment, I just took a picture. We stay at a hotel during camp but it is driving distance from our facility, so we have to drive over there. That was just after a break heading into the facility."

 Wide receiver Adam Thielen walking into the stadium.

D.H.: “When I first came to Minnesota, Adam Thielen was one of the guys I noticed that worked his way up. I learned his story about how he walked onto the team [as an undrafted free agent] and continued to work his way up, not dropping passes and making sure he took advantage of every moment. That inspired me to want to be a similar player that he was and he is one of the dudes on the team that I look up to.”

D.H.: “We have a night scrimmage each year. It’s the first Saturday of the camp. The fans, they come out and family and it’s a good time watching us practice.”

 

Hunter with DT Linval Joseph after the game. 

D.H.: “I am really close with LJ, he is one of my dudes. When I first got here, he treated me like a younger brother. We are both from the Caribbean, he's from Virgin Islands and I am from Jamaica, so we have a lot of things in common, the foods we like, the fish. It is a very good island vibe when I’m with him.”

 


 

Deion Jones is a linebacker entering his fourth season for the Atlanta Falcons. The Pro Bowler is an integral piece of Atlanta’s defense, and he signed a four year extension with the team in March. The Falcons hold training camp at home at their facility, but players stay in dorms on Atlanta’s campus. Each year, Jones makes sure to pack a mattress pad and pillow for camp, because, “You need to get your sleep and you can’t go home to your own bed,” he says. “The best part about camp is all the guys are together living that college dorm life again. It gives us a chance to get closer.” 

 

Falcons players in and around the hot/cold tub.  

D.J.: “That’s the tub room. Our recovery room where we have the hot tub and cold tub. I wanted to capture the grind of camp. After practice you still have to take care of your body and get ready for the next day. It's an ongoing grind, this is the stuff that people don't see. We play music on our phones while we’re in there. It's all of us bonding together and recovering. I don't think anyone has dropped their phone in the water yet. We usually keep our phones around the edges, we take real precautions with that.” 

Jones (in green sweatshirt) sitting with in-season ball boys—high school kids who help at training camp when they aren’t in school and then work at every home game. Ballboys left to right: Shad Dabney, Kamden Young, Olando Mayweather, and Jake Hay.

D.J.: “They are high school kids who play ball and they help out in our equipment room, so I always just give them support because they help us through camp a lot and during the season. So I try getting to close with those guys who help us out a lot.”


Isaac Rochell, a defensive end in his third season with the Chargers, picked up photography as a hobby while he was training for the combine. After his morning workouts, Rochell found himself with hours of free time and now he has a separate Instagram account dedicated to his photography work. “I said you know, what is it to spend $300 on a used camera?” says Rochell. “It’s just evolved into loving to travel and being able to capture some of those things in places that I've been. It's just me being creative and figuring it out on my own. That's the beauty of photography, there’s no right answer. It’s not that football isn’t creative, but photography is something that is specifically creative and artistic that I think is a good outlet. I think it’s important for all football players, or really, anybody who has any job anywhere, to be diverse in your interests.” 

Rochell shot photos at the Chargers training camp home, the Irvine Marriott. 

Selfie at the table with DT Cortez Broughton, Rochell [the photographer] and CB Michael Davis—and nine bottles of sauce. 

I.R.: “There are an absurd amount of sauces. It's actually pretty out of control. Camp just turns into, alright, we’ve been having the same food for such a long time, so you have to get creative with the sauces. We have pasta station every single day and that eventually turns into a teriyaki rice bowl station. I would get a little bit of angel hair pasta that is going on the pan, a little bit of rice, broccoli, making like an Asian vibe, with mushrooms, snap peas, onions. I put teriyaki sauce in it, and sriracha, and just grub on that. That was my go-to switch-up. People just start free-styling, so the sauces are absolutely crucial.”

 Rookie defensive tackle Jerry Tillery sitting at a table outside with his notebook.

I.R.: “Jerry is a good friend, we played at Notre Dame together. It’s weird, because you leave college and it’s like, alright, I’ll never play with any of you guys ever again. You don't think you are going to end up playing with some of these people, but it’s an honor. We were lined up today and I was thinking, I was even talking to him about it, it is such a blessing that we were able to go to such an unreal school. I'm extremely biased, but to be able to go to Notre Dame—we both got our degrees from there and then to both be able to play in the NFL and do what we're doing, it is just a blessing to be able to share this experience with him.” 

 Running back Justin Jackson getting a haircut from chargers barber, Lati Hayes.

I.R.: “The barber—his name is Lati—he comes in once a week during training camp, generally the day before games so people can clean up before they have to get pictures taken. He’s been the team barber since I’ve been with the Chargers. He was actually my first haircut here in Orange County. He gave me something simple, nothing crazy. I don’t trust anybody with my hair because it’s so out of control.” 

Defensive end Joey Bosa studying with iPad on patio outside.

I.R.: “I wanted to capture the spaces that we spend the most time during camp. I am giving you kind of a cheesy answer, but it’s what you would consider the relaxed spaces of camp. The lunch room, we’ll sit there for an hour. We already ate but we just sit around talking. And I got this picture [of defensive end Joey Bosa] studying. So that's what he is doing in this free space, where he doesn’t have to be stressed about being in a meeting or watching film, he is just in his space. I got a picture of a sunset at night, because we had balconies on our hotel rooms. That's a space were you're relaxed and away from camp. I wanted to show the safe comfortable places of camp.” 

FB Derek Watt, DT Dee Liner and TE Virgil Green hanging out and eating Carl’s Jr. 

I.R.: “[They look like they’re having a good time.] Part of that was me pulling out a camera, and being like, Act like you guys are having a great time! We’re sitting outside our special teams meeting room, it's right there, and we have an awkward time gap—it’s like 40 minutes. So it’s not enough time to go up to your room and take a nap, but it's too much time to go and sit in the meeting room. So we just sit out there and talk, hang out. Virg has Carl’s Jr.” 


Brandin Cooks is a receiver for the Rams, in his sixth NFL season. Cooks considers photography a hobby and loves to take photos when he travels with his wife in the offseason. “It’s a great way capture those moments in a different way,” he says. “I print them out sometimes, or just have them on hand so later on in life I can look back to them and remember.”

DT Aaron Donald on the back extension machine in the weight room.

B.C.: “We lift separately—offense with offense, defense with defense—so I went in during defensive lift to get this shot. It gets competitive, and guys are not going in there shying away from lifting hard. Just seeing Aaron work like that, he works really hard and does it consistently day in and day out. That's a guy that is definitely doing it at a high level. I respect it so much and I'm glad that he is on my team.” 

CB Marcus Peters sits on the ground before practice.

B.C.: “He was getting ready to go out for walk-through, and Pete's just being goofy. That’s basically another way to do a peace sign. We’re really close, obviously being on the same team now and competing against each other in college [Cooks at Oregon State, Peters at Washington], he’s somebody I consider a brother. It seems like we’ve known each other for a really long time because we’ve been competing against one another since freshman year of college.”

 

The Rams practice field in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

B.C.: “It’s such a beautiful atmosphere really, we have views of the canyons. It's a peaceful area and it does such a great job for being our temporary facility. We are spoiled in that aspect, having those views makes you appreciate it every single day.” 

Manager, sports science/assistant athletic trainer Tyler Williams and head team dietician Joey Blake.

Director of player development Jacques McClendon on the bike. 

B.C.: “If we need anything, Jacques is the guy that we go to. His availability to help us players, whether it is from a ticket standpoint, whether it is something we need at home, he is the guy to call to get the job done. He is on the assault bike here—it was one of his cardio days.”

 Rams’ team slogans on the wall. 

B.C.: “These are McVay’s words, and the We Not Me aspect talks about the selflessness throughout the locker room. Guys willing to do whatever we can to help the team win. And situational masters means being smart football players and actually knowing the game and not just going out there and playing blind.”