In an ideal world, an NFL team would find a perfect harmony between quality reps in training camp and the perfect quantity. But since this is far from an ideal world, and banging your head against another man until you're dizzy falls severely short of the ideal sporting environment, we must ask ourselves which of the two carries more value through the month of August.
When gauging a rep's value, it is important to understand that it generally depends entirely on what perspective you approach the question from and who is providing the answer. Ultimately, however, making the most of the reps you are given should hold more value in the end.
But before we go further into that, what is a quality rep anyway?
The answer to this question will also vary based on the person you’re asking and what they’re looking to accomplish.
For a seasoned veteran with a long, productive career, a quality rep is likely one that preserves his waning body while sharpening his craft and technique. As such, veterans tend to practice at a much different pace that allows them the opportunity to experiment with new things while narrowing their focus to specific nuances.
Unfortunately for the younger players trying to make an NFL roster or establish a career, many of the practice-makes-perfect elements of training camp don’t really apply.
Rather than approaching the grueling summer days as a platform to test, explore and try out new tools and strategies, the guys battling at the bottom of the roster are forced to attack every rep with the explicit intent for short-term success. Essentially, each summer many young players are indirectly pressured into sticking with the moves and techniques they’re already comfortable with.
Why? Because every rep is critical for all players looking to make a roster.
For these youngsters, a quality rep is best defined as anything that can capture the attention of the powers that be—otherwise known as the guys who control whether you stay or go.
However, accomplishing this during practice sessions against your own team can be challenging when there’s a long list of marquee veterans who are somewhat protected from full-speed competition.
Try going full speed against these guys and you’re likely going to get a mouthful from either the coaches or the players themselves. Most people will go out of their way to avoid being called a “practice hero” or something along those lines.
Needless to say, this can make it difficult for players looking to stand out or make plays in practice. Trying to find that balance is critical, yet extremely elusive.
So, is better to have 10 perfect reps in practice, executed at a high speed, or would 40 error-filled reps done with less intensity be more beneficial?
Though the above sentence seems to imply an inherent preference for higher quality, there are actually benefits to both quality and quantity when it comes to practice in an NFL training camp. At the end of the day, quality reps get the edge for a few key reasons.
If a player is not maximizing his opportunities in practice when his number is called, those opportunities for more reps are inevitably going to decline. Conversely, the same is true for the opposite. Players who impress the coaches in practice are more likely to see more reps.
In addition, the closer a player can come to simulating game situations and tempo, the better prepared he will be come Sunday. However, the challenge in football has always been to simulate game-like scenarios and speeds without adding premature wear and tear to the players.
Over the decades, the philosophies of how to best achieve this balance seem to have drifted into the more cautious realm. Evidence of this can be seen in the handling of players like Percy Harvin. This offseason, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll stated that he would rest Harvin during much of training camp in an effort to keep him healthy, per Marcas Grant of NFL.com.
Depending on which school of thought you lean toward, this can be viewed as either a good or bad thing for the talented playmaker.
Obviously for a guy in Harvin’s situation, quality reps are considered vastly more important than quantity in the eyes of Coach Carroll.
The same logic tends to apply somewhat universally for most NFL veterans—at least to a degree—especially those who have already proven themselves in game situations.
Another point worth considering is this: The way a player practices will eventually mold and shape the way he performs overall. With this in mind, poorly executed reps at a high volume could cause a player to develop damaging habits and compromised technique.
A great example of this would be a quarterback and his throwing motion. Over years of forming the habit of throwing a football a certain way, it can often become nearly impossible to reverse that damage.
Tim Tebow comes to mind as a perfect example. His ability to make plays with his legs allowed his horrible throwing mechanics to be overlooked for years. By the time he got into the NFL the damage was irreparable.
A possible concern for a guy in Harvin’s case is the reps could be making a fragile player even more fragile. Sure, with every snap he takes in practice he risks an injury, but those reps also help to strengthen his body for when the more intense action begins.
Furthermore, a lack of practice reps could compromise his conditioning and stamina. This may lead to him breaking down or fatiguing in the latter portions of a contest. This can be troublesome because not only is a fatigued player less effective, but he is also more likely to get injured.
In the end, it’s a tough thing to figure out the perfect balance between quality reps and quantity. For guys on the roster bubble, there can be nothing less but quality every time. For veterans, overexertion and injury force a conservative nature among coaches, perhaps to a fault.
But the last thing you want to do is practice your way off a team with a high volume of poorly executed snaps while building bad habits along the way.
As the saying goes—don’t count the things you do, do the things that count.
Ryan Riddle is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Before B/R, Ryan played for the Raiders, Jets, Falcons and Ravens. Follow him on Twitter.
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