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Two-A-Days and ‘The Turk’

Archive   ·   January 17, 2009

Spring Training in baseball begins slowly in retirement areas such as Arizona and Florida, with pitchers and catchers reporting early.

Once the position players arrive, intra-squad games start, and eventually exhibition contests played against other teams. It is a relatively light atmosphere, with players being led through exercises on the outfield grass and managers seated on lawn chairs near the dugout. If you didn’t know any better, you may mistakenly think that those guys in the batting practice jerseys and caps are part of the shuffleboard or bingo crowd nearby.

That’s baseball.

Football is a different story.

NFL training camps opened at the end of July without the smiles and soft tosses. Two-a-days in helmets and pads under a brutal sun and temperatures nearing 100 degrees will never be mistaken for anything but what it is: complete and full preparation for 16 regular season and hopefully playoff games.

The reps done in July and August may seem trivial at the time, even to some of the players. But something perfected here can transcend into a much larger stage down the road.

While beaming in the victorious Indianapolis locker room, Super Bowl XLI MVP Peyton Manning spoke of how the rainy conditions did not affect him, unlike the Bears’ Rex Grossman.

“In training camp, we did wet ball drills by dunking a ball in a pail of water to practice snapping the ball,” Manning said in February. “Jeff (Colts center Saturday) was asking why. But doing that definitely helped me tonight.”

Following OTA’s and mini-camps, coaching staffs around the league prepared for the opening of the month long marathon before NFL Kickoff Weekend begins on Thursday, September 6. Veterans and rookie free agents alike will be working on the practice field and in the classroom learning the playbook that will be used throughout the long season.

“Training camp is about putting in the whole playbook,” Jets head coach Eric Mangini said. “You put everything in at that point and you review all the different facets of the system because you don’t know when you’re going to have to pull out certain things, and you want to have those reps, and the learning built up, and be able to draw on that experience.”

For players on the bubble, every snap in practice and the preseason games may be either their highlight or downfall. A visit by ‘The Turk’ when players start being released is always lurking, and two dates jump off the calendar for the fringe players. August 28 is the first hurdle when rosters must be cut down to 75 players. Only a few days later on September 1, the number decreases to 53. Those last 10 days can get extremely competitive in camp.

Even for players that are assured of a roster spot, the preparation during camp still has major importance. “For me, it’s about being available and making sure that I’m available for another 16 games,” Jets quarterback Chad Pennington said. “It’s all about consistency and the great thing about this league is that what you have done in the past has no bearing on the upcoming season. All 32 teams have a shot to be successful.”

There will be many questions being asked as camps open up, and hopefully they can be answered by the time they close. One close to home is how the Giants will replace Tiki Barber. Although Brandon Jacobs and newcomer Reuben Droughns are talented, having a questionable backfield will add more pressure on QB Eli Manning.

JaMarcus Russell was the overall first pick in the draft by the 2-14 Oakland Raiders, and the fans in the Black Hole will be chanting for him if he isn’t named the starter in training camp. But is he ready to step in and make an impact?

In New England, did the rich get richer with the acquisition of wide receiver Randy Moss? Does the Chicago Bears’ defense have enough depth to overcome the release of the troubled ‘Tank’ Johnson?

In Denver, Jay Cutler enters camp as the Broncos’ starting QB in his second season. His situation is similar to the one in San Diego a year ago with Phillip Rivers, who took over for Drew Brees and led the Chargers to a 14-2 record, good enough for first place in the competitive AFC West.

The AFC was far superior to the NFC in 2006, with five teams versus three in double-digit wins. Only four AFC teams finished below .500, while seven NFC clubs could not win half their games. The worst AFC division winner had 12 wins, while the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West at 9-7.

What does this all mean for 2007? It remains to be seen, although the AFC is still viewed as the deeper conference.

It all culminates on February 3 in Arizona.

Play ball.

NY Sports Day

NY Sports Day


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