After months of anticipation, NFL training camps are finally getting underway.
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- Pace of the Offense
The first few days of camp are spent installing plays that you started working on earlier in the summer. Once the offense gets comfortable running those plays, the goal is to see just how quickly they can get in and out of the huddle. Usually with veteran QBs, the pace of the offense quickens. The Patriots, Broncos and Saints were the top offenses in points last year, and they were also top 10 in total plays. Pace was a big part of their success. The three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks at the helm of those squads were a big reason why. If you see a ton of plays ran during the two-hour practice, it could be a good sign moving forward.
- Individual OL vs. DL Drills
These drill usually take place away from the main part of practice, where a coach simulates taking a snap and the two linemen go at it for 3-5 seconds or until they hear a whistle. There is really nothing fancy about this particular drill; it's all about brute strength. After watching about ten minutes of this routine, you can usually find who might be the strongest player on the team and who has the best technique. Also, if a fight breaks out during the 11-on-11 part of practice, the origin usually starts here.
- 40 Through 53
Before camp even starts, most coaches can tell you the first 40 guys on the roster. They may not know who is starting, but they have a good idea as to who is on the front end of the list. One of the most intriguing parts of camp are those final 13 spots and those particular battles. It could be a 6th wideout, a 10th offensive lineman, or a 7th linebacker. These guys will play a big role on special teams, and could also be playing significant plays in November and December if there are injuries.
- Individual CB vs. WR Red Zone Drills
I like this drill because after a few reps you can tell which corners are comfortable playing man-to-man, as well as the receivers who can get separation without using much space. Usually the wide receiver coach calls a route that only covers one part of the field, and it's just about seeing how much separation can be created within a 3-second span. Also, because there is no pass rush, the quarterback is almost always instructed to get the ball out in 3 or 5 steps, max.
- Who is That Guy?
There is always a player in training camp who is not well known but puts on a show. He might be an undrafted free agent or a guy who has bounced around from team to team. A lot of times it will be a wide receiver who catches everything in individual drills, but doesn't get a lot of reps when it's time for 11-on-11 stuff. It could also be a 4th-string running back who explodes every time he touches the ball. Try not to be fooled by these players during practice, because a lot of times they won't get many reps during preseason games, and that's what the coaches are really watching.
- Quarterback Stats Don't Matter in Practice
A few years ago, media members started charting every pass thrown during 11-on-11 drills as if they matter, and they printed them in papers and gave the stats on TV with no real context. I've watched QBs complete 45 of 50 passes in practice, then in a game, not complete squat. The biggest things to watch with quarterbacks during camp are the basics: Does he have good footwork? How quickly does he get his team out of the huddle? What's his overall command of the offense? Completions don't matter until September, people.
- Two-Minute Drill
Usually towards the end of practice after all of the individual position drills have been worked on, all three parts of the depth chart on offense and defense will work on the two-minute drill from around the 20-yard line. In the first part of camp, the defense primarily wins the drill. As the days pass, the offense catches up. While covering the Titans last year, I noticed that the offense moved the ball pretty much from day one. It turned out to be a sign of things to come, as their defense went on to give up 471 points in 2012, dead last in the NFL.