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Patriots kick off NFL training camps July 20

(July 13, 2005) -- The first 2005 NFL training camp opens on Wednesday, July 20(SIC), when the Super Bowl XXXIX champion New England Patriots' rookies report to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Following the Pats to camp are the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins on Sunday, July 24. By Sunday, July 31, all 32 NFL teams will be encamped.

Where they encamp is another matter. There has been a definite change in coaching philosophy as to the preferred location of NFL training camps in the past 10 years. In 1995, only 20 percent of teams (six of 30) trained in the summer at their regular-season home base. This year -- with the additions of Atlanta, St. Louis and San Diego to the "stay-at-homes" -- almost half of the NFL clubs (15 of 32) will train at home.

Then there are the traditionalists who believe that if you are going to training camp, you should go away. Like Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher.

"I'm more of an old-school guy," says Cowher, whose team enters the season with a 14-game regular-season winning streak. "I think camps away from home are a necessity. If you eliminate distractions and bring players closer, the better chance you're going to have of evaluating and making decisions."

Last season's Super Bowl featured one team that trained at home (New England in Foxboro) and another which encamped away (Philadelphia in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania).

One thing every NFL club agrees upon is the importance of the preseason games they play during training camps. Nothing proves that better than the preseason record of the past 10 Super Bowl champions. Combined, they have a .667 preseason winning percentage, with their wins doubling their losses (28-14).

"Every player has something to prove in preseason," says head coach Brian Billick of the Baltimore Ravens, who were 3-1 in the preseason last year. "The standout veterans have to show they can still play at a high level. New players have to prove they can play in this league. You don't prove you can do that in practice alone. We have to see it in games. That's why you see intense play from the players in the preseason. They all have something to prove, and to show they belong."

That "proving" starts on the weekend of August 6-8 in two special games that kick off the preseason schedule.

On Saturday, August 6, the NFL returns to Tokyo, Japan for the 40th American Bowl (the season begins with a "40th" and ends with one -- Super Bowl XL) featuring two of the league's most exciting quarterbacks -- Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons (live, ESPN2, 5 a.m. ET; re-air, ESPN, 6 p.m. ET). It will be the 12th American Bowl played in Tokyo, a record for an international city.

On Sunday, back in the states, the quarterback theme continues at the birthplace of the NFL -- Canton, Ohio -- in the induction ceremonies of the 2005 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.

Four former players who excelled at the quarterback position -- Benny Friedman, Dan Marino, Fritz Pollard and Steve Young -- will be enshrined.

On Monday night, the team for which Marino set numerous club and league passing records, the Dolphins, will take on the Bears in the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game on ABC at 8 p.m. ET. It also will be the NFL head-coaching debut of the Dolphins' Nick Saban.

The two preseason kickoff games will be the first of 11 nationally televised contests this summer. Add to those the "wall-to-wall-ball" schedule of NFL Network -- 55 games in 25 days -- and NFL fans will be able to see first-hand the intensity of preseason competition.

Three teams -- the Atlanta Falcons, St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers -- will encamp in new training sites this year -- their regular-season home bases. While some clubs have changed their training sites in the last decade, some return to familiar venues where they have spent their summer months for years.

The NFL training camp longevity king? The Green Bay Packers, who return on July 25 for their 47th consecutive summer at St. Norbert College in DePere, Wisconsin. ---- *EDT - Patriots training camp opens to the public on July 29, 2005.

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