As always, new coaches and new rookies in the NFL pre-season spotlight
When fans last tuned in to the National Football League, the Seattle Seahawks were celebrating a 43-8 rout of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. It probably seems like an eternity ago to American football’s fans, though it was only five months ago.
Now the wait is over. All 32 teams will be in training camp before the week is out, and the first pre-season game is on August 3, the annual Hall of Fame event.
Players, coaches and front-office staffs got some down time, albeit less than in past years, and with the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants headed to the Hall of Fame game, the break was even shorter for some.
“You’ve got to be very smart this time of year with how you’re conducting yourself, what you’re doing,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “You can never lose sight of the prize.”
Certainly, a Vince Lombardi Trophy is hard to see through the haze of summertime heat and humidity. Even opening day is still a long way off, but the pre-season will be here soon. Some topics to consider during the pre-season:
The 2011 collective bargaining agreement placed limitations on the length and frequency of practices, but Mother Nature does not care. From Berea, Ohio, to Bourbonnais, Illinois, and from Renton, Washington, to Richmond, Virginia, there is no hiding from the heat.
NFL teams have become more attuned to the conditions and incidents of heat-related illnesses at training camps are rare. Thankfully, there has been nothing approaching the tragedy of Korey Stringer, who died of heat stroke in 2001.
“When athletes do intense exercise in the heat, the risk of exertional heat stroke is ever-present,” says Dr Douglas J Casa, chief executive of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut. “The NFL has taken some important strides to make players stay safe.”
A few alterations will be noticeable, and fans will have to look hard to spot the others.
In an experiment, extra-point kicks in the first two exhibition games will come from the 15-yard line, rather than the two-yard line. Roger Goodell, the league’s commissioner, said that conversion kicks need more excitement. But even from that distance, fewer than 10 per cent of kicks fail.
The goalposts NFL kickers are trying to put the ball through will be extended another five feet in height, making it easier to judge makes and misses. And to Saints tight end Jimmy Graham’s chagrin, dunking over the crossbar will not be permitted when celebrating a touchdown.
With LeBron James’s return, quarterback and first-round draft pick Johnny Manziel might not be the top star in Cleveland, but he still will get plenty of attention for what he does on and off the field this summer.
Others will be celebrated for their talent as well as their unusual names. One of those is Jadeveon Clowney, the top pick in the draft, who is expected to dominate attention in Houston. Among other “name” first-round players are Ja’Wuan James of Miami, Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix of Green Bay and Darqueze Dennard of Cincinnati.
The injury bug
Long before the first whistle sounded in training camp, three premier linebackers were gone for 2014. Dallas lost Sean Lee to a knee injury during non-contact drills. Buffalo’s Kiko Alonso wrecked his knee while working out at home in Oregon. Atlanta’s Sean Weatherspoon tore his Achilles tendon.
The one clear goal in training camp is to escape it without any major injuries.
“I think there is a fine line between making sure the team is ready to play the season, both from a contact standpoint and also from a health standpoint, so we’ll keep a good gauge on that,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said.
O’Brien is one of seven new coaches in the league. His task might be the most difficult, taking a team that lost its final 14 games in 2013, and straightening it out. He also faces a potential holdout by his top veteran, receiver Andre Johnson.
Jay Gruden is in Washington, trying to keep quarterback Robert Griffin III healthy. Mike Zimmer cannot be sure whom he can rely on in Minnesota other than running back Adrian Peterson.
Mike Pettine has the Manziel festival in Cleveland; Lovie Smith has a drastically altered roster in Tampa and Jim Caldwell inherits a team in need of discipline in Detroit.
Ken Whisenhunt, who helped turn Arizona into a Super Bowl team, landed in Tennessee and might have the best shot at fast improvement if he can get the offense to click. That is his speciality.
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Updated: July 22, 2014 04:00 AM