I’ve been to baseball’s spring training in Florida a few times, and the loose, relaxed atmosphere, the warm sunshine always provided a nice break from the chilly March temperatures of home.
However, as a veteran of many Titans training camps, I can tell you this — football training camp is very different from the baseball spring atmosphere.
Most football players, unless they’re wide-eyed rookies or camp longshots, long ago adopted the stance of camp as a necessary evil, i.e., it’s not their favorite part of the job, running around in sweltering heat sometimes in full pads.
And speaking of heat… training camp is hot — always. Temperatures usually hover in the 90s, some days at or better than 100 degrees, and usually there is accompanying humidity to go along for the ride.
Despite this, fans flock to get close-up views and brief interaction with their local NFL team and its players. There are a few diehards, who seem to be regulars day after day or even year after year. Others are simply intrigued and want to see what’s going on, maybe a dad taking his son to see a real NFL practice with hopes of an autograph or two at the end of the session.
In that regard, training camp does share a bond with baseball’s spring training. In most instances, it puts Titans fans as close to their favorite team as they will probably ever be.
When else would players get the chance to take time from the grind to interact with fans?
Still, there are certain things to remember.
What is going on ‘on’ the field is not only being watched by the fans in attendance, but it is being scrutinized and dissected in every way by a critical coaching staff. And sometimes a play, good or bad, catches the just the right set of eyes and the indelible memory sticks.
Case in point: (Set flashback sequence to August 2008.) Kerry Collins launches a beautiful deep post pass in one-on-one drills. Receiver Mike Williams has beaten the defensive back by at least three or four steps, but the ball drops right through his hands, just as Coach Jeff Fisher turns away from action on the other end to see the play unfold. Fisher simply shakes his head in disbelief, and Williams’ days as a Titan are officially numbered, as he doesn’t make it to the first preseason game before being released.
In terms of what goes on at practice, there are usually multiple things occurring at once. Some are mundane and tedious, like watching punt coverage drills in the heat of early August. With others, there is too much to take in at once. Receivers and defensive backs may be doing one-on-one drills against each other on one end of the field, while offensive and defensive linemen are engaged in blocking drills on the other, and Jim Washburn and Mike Munchak overseeing the proceedings.
Keep this in mind too: In things like one-on-one or seven-on-seven (where pass plays are run minus the offensive and defensive lines), the offense should win the vast majority of the time with no pressure on the quarterback.
Too, to the untrained eye (like mine), looks can sometimes be deceiving in certain drills. A receiver might make a nice catch, and you think it was a good play, only to find out he might not have run his route correctly in the first place.
If you really want to get an evaluation of who is doing what well, listen to the coaches, even if the language is sometimes salty. Their praise or criticism after a particular play offers clues as to who did what and how well.
For all us amateur scouts and coaches watching from the sidelines, the credo is this — look, listen and learn. Oh, and try to stay cool.