Actually, if you're a player, it bites. As Sports Illustrated's Stephan Fastis discovered, players regard it grimly. Some more stoically than others, to be sure, but the fact is that camp is something to be endured if you're a veteran; if a rookie, it is 6 or so weeks of desperate self-doubt.
photo: Boston Herald
Nevertheless, a critical time of the year. As the firehose of football sports-writing begins to flow in earnest, those of us who take this all a little too seriously (that would be you, Mr. Reading PatsPulpit at Work Man) need to keep some things in mind as we scour the intertubes for signs of hope. To help you cope, here are 5 general JohnHannahRules for pre-season camp:
1. Defense looks good before offense looks good.
2. Receivers, generally, look better than defensive backs.
3. Passing looks better than running.
4. Veterans sit out any chance they get unless they're on the cut bubble.
5. Journalists don't know what they're looking at but have to write something. Anything.
Taking these in order, I'll expand. (continued)
1. Defense before offense. Defense is a reactive art. Once a scheme is set, players react to what's in front of them. Naturally there's a little more to it than this, but it's essentially the case. This is why speed is at a premium on D (and why I think bad footing in snow or rain favors the offense). Offense is schematically more complex than defense and to be successful relies on unity and timing. Unity and timing need the rust shaken off them (at the very least) and that's what camp is for. In the meantime, the D cleans up. In fact, if your defense is getting scorched early in camp as a matter of course--especially in the running game--you should probably be a little concerned.
2. WRs before DBs. This is the one minor exception to rule one. Coverages are the toughest part of defense. This is why the debate about the most important unit on the field often comes down to DBs v. OL. As a Patriots fan (assuming you are one), by now you're used to talk about how important Rodney Harrison's coach-on-the-field ability is so important to their success. This is why: all four (sometimes five or six) of those guys need to be on the same page. That takes time.
3. Passing before running. This goes hand in hand in hand with #s one and two. Pass blocking is a bit easier than run blocking. While both take coordination and mutual anticipation, there are (at least) three things that make it so: (1) the line is backing up (hopefully slowly), so it's possible to see a screw-up before it becomes a problem and (2) rarely does the defense rush more than 5 defenders; (3) there is no room for similar error in blocking the running game, especially against NFL-caliber defenders. If you fail to "get a helmet on" one of the 7 "in-the-box" defenders to the zone of the run, the thing is going to blow up in your face. Again, synchronicity takes longer than reactivity.
4. Veterans sit when they can. If there is a legitimate reason, no vet reasonably secure in his job will push through an injury in camp. The reasons for this should be obvious, but I know how you get that little panic pulse when you see Wes Welkah on the PUP list. Chill. He's fine.
5. The Media a) knows nothing and b) writes something. That's their job, of course. Sometimes it's a column of useless nattering--not unlike this one. More often than not, it takes the form of this handy -- and hilarious -- fill-in-the-blanks example from Football Outsiders:
Headline: ROOKIE Shows off his moves
Copy: It was a routine short pass over the middle. ROOKIE caught the ball in stride for what looked like a four-yard gain. But then he made a move, juking out VETERAN DEFENDER and cutting upfield for an extra 20 yards.
It was only a minicamp drill, but the move opened eyes and turned heads. That catch wasn’t the first time in camp that ROOKIE left a defender tackling thin air. "We didn’t know what we had with this kid," said POSITION COACH after practice. "He really makes things happen."
ROOKIE has been making things happen for his entire football career. He broke every rushing record at TINY RURAL HIGH SCHOOL but wasn’t highly recruited because he was just REALLY SHORT feet tall and weighed REALLY LIGHT pounds. After a year in juco, he transferred to UNHEARD OF UNIVERSITY where he overwhelmed the competition, rushing for OBSCENELY GREAT STATS while doing it all for the RIDICULOUSLY NON-THREATINING TEAM NICKNAMEs: rushing, catching passes, returning punts and kicks, and even throwing some option passes.
Still, pro scouts were skeptical of his size and the level of competition. ROOKIE didn’t hear his name called on draft day, but several teams contacted him as a free agent. "I knew my size would be a liability. It has been all through my career," ROOKIE said. "I came here because I believe coach HEAD COACH will give me the best opportunity to show what I can do."
So far, HEAD COACH has been singing ROOKIE’s praises. "That kid gives us a lot of flexibility. He can do a lot of things as a rusher, receiver, and a return man. I also like his effort and intensity." Still, ROOKIE faces an uphill battle to make the roster. FEATURED BACK and VETERAN THIRD DOWN GUY are locks to make the roster, and THIRD-ROUND PICK is ahead of ROOKIE on the depth chart. The team may keep four running backs, so ROOKIE’s best chance to make the roster is to beat out DISAPPOINTING FORMER NO. 1 PICK WITH TWO DUI’S ON HIS RECORD and OBSCURE PRACTICE SQUAD GUY.
ROOKIE remains optimistic despite the odds. "I like being the underdog. It motivates me," he said. "This camp has showed me that I can play in the NFL." ROOKIE has faked and juked his way through an impressive college career. His next fancy move could fake him right onto the roster.
I think I've read that article already this year! Karen Guregian's piece on some rookie DB's follows this formula almost to the letter.
It's not her fault, though. No one knows what the coaches are thinking. And these coaches in particular are not likely to tell them much. Players are only available for set times; everybody gets the same milquetoast quotes. Just try making the rounds between the ProJo, the Globe and the Herald and see if you can find anyone with a scoop. You can't. Player access is incredibly restricted, so we all get the same pile of boring crap served up on different plates with slightly different gravy.
I just try to find the writers whose gravy I like the best. Er...
Ah, hmm. Well, you know what I mean.
Anyway, the point of these rules is: don't get too worked up. The only real look at the season-to-come is pre-season game #2. And even that is going to be a mixed bag. Enjoy the fact that football is back (f*ckin'-a right it is!) and, like the wily vet you are, save it for the season.