Much like a bear stumbling out of its cave at the onset of spring after a long winter hibernation, so too does the NFL emerge from an extended slumber as the calendar turns to late July. Training camps start to open, which means real football is right around the corner.
This begs the question: How should NFL franchises measure success in this critical period of team development? Well, there are a clear set of objectives that each team seeks to follow.
Obviously, everything starts with health. Just take a look at what happened with Dallas Cowboys defensive end Tyrone Crawford, lost for the season with a torn Achilles on the opening day of training camp. Injuries are an unfortunate part of football, and while an element of luck is certainly involved in maintaining a squad's overall health, teams must take the necessary steps to ensure that their key players are able to perform on the field in September and beyond.
A team must also develop its personality. This point is especially critical for new head coaches seeking to leave their imprint on the 53-man roster. Every successful NFL team has an identity that is forged in the sweat and heat of training camp. Teams don't just become smart, disciplined and tough by accident; these attributes are honed under the sweltering July and August sun.
Let's move on to roster development. While the stars of each team are most likely established, it's the job of each coaching staff to develop the bottom third of the roster. This is where they really earn their paydays—by coaxing maximum effort and ability out of players who don't necessarily possess the physical attributes of obvious starters.
In the NFL, you don't win with a few stars and an otherwise-average 53-man roster. Each squad must be balanced, and that starts in training camp. The depth players must compete hard on special teams and be ready to play if needed. This is a primary objective of each team in camp.
Along the same line of roster development, it is important to ensure that the backup quarterback is 100 percent prepared to play. Everyone knows that the quarterback is the single-most important player on the roster, and if he is injured, the backup must be ready to step in and perform at a high level.
Even for the most successful and tenured coaching staffs, there are schematic changes made in the offseason, and these new plans are implemented in training camp. Whether it's a new offensive formation or defensive blitz, these plays are born and nurtured in camp.
Each team also has a group of new players, whether via free agency or the draft, that must be assimilated into the roster. It's up to each coaching staff to make sure that these fresh faces learn the playbook and are ready to compete and contribute.
And ultimately, the coaches to hand the team over to the veteran leaders in the locker room. No matter what happens, it's their team, and when the staff is empowered, the locker room leaders will make sure that the team remains policed and focused.
If all of these objectives are followed, there's no question that NFL teams can consider their training camp to be a successful one.