With the changes to practices mandated by the last collective bargaining agreement, training camp has gone through some structural alterations both in execution and attitude.
Shortened workouts, less contact, fewer padded practices—with so many rules limiting practice, does anybody still benefit from training camp?
Aside from the obvious—rookies and others who get arrested when they have too much free time—every position benefits at least a little bit. It’s the time of year when the staff fully installs new schemes and tweaks things that have worked in the past. It’s also when recently signed free agents get a feel for how they fit into the grand scheme of things.
That’s wide-lens stuff, though. If we narrow focus, there are some positions which benefit more from training camp than others.
There are two positions I think benefit the most, and both are on the offensive side of the ball.
Simply put, the defense has to change what they are doing every week in a way the offense doesn’t. Offense tends to dictate to defense in terms of preparation, rather than the opposite.
That’s not to say the defense doesn’t benefit from camp, but that much more of their preparation takes place in the week leading up to games and is less about chemistry than the two positions we’re about to talk about.
Guys like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning are old hands at the game, so you’d think they could take it easy. Camp can’t be a big deal for a veteran quarterback, right? This section must be about about rookies.
It’s not, though, even if camp is less critical for veterans in most other positions.
No, quarterbacks rely heavily on training camp. This is where they build chemistry with receivers and tight ends and work out the kinks for plays old and new.
Of course, they can work with players during OTAs and minicamp, but not all the tight ends or receivers show up and the work is non-contact. Any football player will tell you that it’s one thing to run around in shorts and shells, but another thing entirely to play actual football.
Training camp is when players throw their pads on and push things to a higher level.
So while work during the earlier portions of the off-season is great, this is where a quarterback does his fine-tuning with new players, new plays and play adjustments.
With players they know well, quarterbacks still need to get back on the same page after months of time apart. With new receivers (like free agents and rookies) a quarterback has to learn how his new weapons play.
How fast are they? How crisp a route do they run? What kind of hands do they have? What kind of range?
A quarterback has to adjust his delivery based on the answer to those and many other questions.
On top of that, quarterbacks will work closely with their coaches on new plays or adjustments to old plays. They may have been making adjustments all offseason, but that was on paper or, at best, in shorts.
Now that they are on the field with live football drills, contact and defense, they can test out plays. Then, based on the results, a quarterback and the staff can go back and tweak things further.
Of course, this is an ongoing process for quarterbacks, but much of the heavy lifting happens in camp.
Without it, an offense can be behind on its development and could struggle to find its footing early in the season.
While all levels of the offense and defense are constantly working on their plays, the quarterback benefits most in this process during training camp.
Much like the quarterback, the transition from the shirts and shells atmosphere of OTAs and minicamp to the full pads of training camp helps the wide receivers more than other positions.
Many receivers work on their craft all offseason. Some work with quarterbacks (their own or ones who train at the facilities they attend in the offseason) and some with passing machines, but it’s not like they show up to camp without having touched a ball in six months.
That said—and as we touched on above—it’s much different catching balls in a gym or from a machine than it is running a route with full pads and a cornerback in your back pocket.
Training camp is where receivers can get back into a rhythm with their quarterback as well as other receivers. Timing is everything in passing, so if two receivers aren’t on the same page they can get in each other’s way.
Getting used to other receivers, getting back in sync with their quarterbacks and having to deal with cornerbacks harassing them while they make a catch are all things which make training camp invaluable for a receiver.
Of course, camp benefits every player on the team in some way. Defenses, offensive linemen and the coaches all need the prep time provided by training camp.
However, the two key positions that benefit most from training camp are definitely the quarterback and wide receivers.