Hooray, football is back!
Well, sort of back. At least the pads and helmets are back, although it seems there is little need for them anymore during the week.
Under the terms of a new agreement, teams will be required to conduct only one full-contact practice a week during the regular season. No longer will two-a-days be part of NFL culture.
For a sport that requires physical contact, the new rules will make preparing an entire team to play in that style much, much more difficult. Coaches are restricted by the length of practice. It's Club Med meets the NFL.
How can NFL players even say they are heading off to training camp now with these rules? What must George Halas be thinking, or Vince Lombardi, or better yet, the players from that era? This is like a military academy softening its indoctrination rules.
Let's face reality: every high school football practice in America will be harder than any NFL team can mandate. High school teams will have two-a-days, practice each day with contact, and be on the field longer. The concerning part for most coaches trying to become a physical team in the NFL is that it requires practicing full-contact in pads. To be physical, you must practice physical.
These new rules will affect the game -- at least in the short term -- as coaches learn the best approach to practice within the framework of the new rules. To be a great coach requires adaptability, therefore the ones who adapt the quickest will benefit the most.
Former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Eric Shinseki once said about the changing climate regarding warfare: "If you don't like change you will like irrelevance even less." Coaches who don't change will become irrelevant.
This is an exciting time for most every fan, but it might be an unhappy time for many NFL coaches nervous about the health and fitness of his players. Without the benefit of offseason supervision, many players will walk back into work unprepared for the rigors of the NFL. If you think some coaches are unhappy with the new practice rules, wait until they get reacquainted with some of their old players.
Every NFL team has a few (some more than a few) overweight players who must be monitored all year. Teams normally assign weight limits to each player during the season and each week monitor those weights. When a player is over his limit, he is fined and off to see the strength coach to exercise in order to get to his playing weight.
In the past during the bye week players would leave the facility for sometimes more than four days, and the concern for most coaches would always be how much weight all the fat guys would gain while being away. Time off does not work well with overweight guys -- at least in the NFL. No matter how much warning or how much money the fines might be, the overweight players typically come back heavier than ever.
Typically, the diet always starts tomorrow for the overweight crowd (me included). We all have grand plans to lose weight starting tomorrow, and NFL players are no different. However, the bad news is now with the lockout ending, tomorrow is here.
This is going to be a huge problem for all the strength coaches the next few weeks. With the heat and humidity running rampant all throughout the country, no team can risk placing a player on the field unless they are confident he can handle the work load. For fans attending NFL practices in the near future don't be surprised to see as many players working out with the trainer as are working out with the team. Conditioning will take many players away from the game.
Another concerning issue will be the injuries suffered by some players while the lockout was in full force. We all know about the concerns the Colts have with Peyton Manning and his rehabilitation of his neck injury and how it has prevented him from getting ready for the NFL season. How many more players are like Manning? How many players pulled muscles while training? How many players will walk back into work with an injury that might cost them the season? These potential problems will then force teams to go after certain players in free agency that perhaps they might not have been interested.
And then there are the unrestricted free agents who might not be completely healthy but will command a king's ransom to sign. Clubs will be limited in terms of time to sign players, therefore the touring of potential free agents to club facilities, eating expensive dinners and taking physicals won't happen. Teams will simply have to agree to terms on a player and hope (really hope) he passes the physical. That's a scary proposition.
The next few weeks will be wild, but at least instead of talking about the lockout we will be talking and writing about football. That is the best news ever.
And by the way, my diet starts now.