GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The thermostat is set to a comfortable temperature inside University of Phoenix Stadium. The sun is shaded by a closed roof. The Arizona Cardinals’ first practice of the day starts as the clock strikes 2 p.m.
This is how training camp is these days.
Gone are the days of two practices per day -- both in pads -- outside, under the sun. Gone are the days of dehydration from excessive sweating from overheating.
“As I told our players in our meetings [Friday] night, it’s really hard to call this camp anymore,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “There’s no physical grind to this stuff like it used to be. It’s all mental.”
When the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement was signed in 2011, one major point of emphasis was new training camp rules. Gone were two-a-days in full pads, replaced by a walk-through and one practice. The word practice can’t even be used twice in a day for teams. Every team is required to give players a full day off during the first week of camp.
The new rules changed both players’ and teams’ approaches to training camp.
“It’s definitely a lot more mental because the reps are cut back so you have to make sure you’re always on the ball in terms of just mental preparation and understanding what every play is going on,” Cardinals veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “Even if you’re not getting the rep physically, you have to be in it mentally.”
When Fitzgerald entered the league in 2004, he went through two-a-days during Cardinals training camp in Flagstaff, Arizona. Defensive end Frostee Rucker is also a veteran of the two-a-days training camp, having entered the league in 2006 with Cincinnati.
But he’d prefer the new approach to camp.
“I kinda like it the way it is now toward the tail end of my career,” Rucker said. “I like only having one practice per day. Can’t be mad at that, you know? It’s a tough one. The more you practice, the better you get. Practice makes perfect in a way, but at the same time, the education part really helps some guys in the development of the game, especially some younger guys that are rookies and stuff like that.
“They need more classroom time to catch up to speed.”
Instead of showing players what do on the field, coaches use more classroom instruction to get their point across. Rucker said the Cardinals are diagramming plays at the board more, committing it to memory instead of learning on the field. For those that are visual learners, it’s a benefit.
The added classroom work, however, comes with more responsibility, Rucker said.
Position coaches are giving more quizzes, testing a player’s knowledge long before he steps on the field.
But another reason players, especially ones on the downside of their careers, are in favor of the new training camp is because it’s safer. Rucker, who’s entering his ninth season, said having one practice day can extend his career.
“You only have one practice, that’s just one less opportunity to get a concussion that next practice when fatigue steps in [or hurt] hamstrings and soft tissue injuries,” Rucker said. “You get a little bit more time to take care of your body.”