Daily mailbag: Post-CBA quality of play

Aaron Rodgers favors limited practice time, while Jim Schwartz says the game's complexity necessitates maximizing practice. US Presswire

John of Belleville, Ill., wonders if practice rules dictated by the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) will impact the quality of games this season. The rules include no formal two-a-day practices during training camp and a limit of 14 padded practices during the season:

So.....when the first few games of the season happen do you see the quality of play dropping based on the limitations that the players and owners agreed to within the CBA? My take is that there will be more injuries caused due to lack of preparation and more missed tackles because they are not allowed to practice in pads or practice the technique of tackling. IMO the NFL is/was the best football product due to the actual preparation of the players and I am afraid we will be seeing an inferior product due to the new CBA.

To be honest, it was difficult to detect a major change in training camps this summer. Most NFL teams had been moving away from two-a-day practices anyway, and there are no limits on the duration of the single allowable practices. Every practice I covered during CampTour'11 lasted at least two hours and some as long as 2 1/2. That's plenty of on-field work for a typical day of camp.

So I don't see the new training camp rules affecting quality of play. But I did hear more than a few coaches express concern about the one-time lack of offseason preparation time and the now-permanent regular-season limit on padded practices. Few teams actually conduct full-contact practices once the season starts, but many coaches believe that having players practice in pads encourages proper hitting and leverage techniques.

We won't be able to judge the in-season dynamic for a few months. But I can pass along to you the thoughts of one NFC North coach and one quarterback on the effect, or lack thereof, of the lost offseason on quality of play.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who as a player representative helped argue for a cutback on practices and offseason work, was unconcerned when I spoke with him. Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz, meanwhile, explained why coaches are so adamant about maximum practice time. I asked both of them about the issue in the context of league history, for which organized team activities and multiple minicamps are relatively recent innovations.

Aaron Rodgers

"I don't think it will have any impact. The offseason program has a place and I think once you're done with training camp it's a different team than it was in the spring. There was no spring this year. So it's just going to be a different look as far as the team goes. But I expect the play to be the same as it always is.

"It's a self-motivated league and guys have to get themselves ready to play. It is a different league than it was in the past. The offseason program has a place, but I think it's important to get your work done in training camp. Once you get the pads on, that changes everything. ... It'll be hard on the rookies and the new players, but the veterans on our team have worked hard and have themselves in good shape and are ready to rock and roll."

Jim Schwartz

"I've been in the league since 1993 and we had a bunch of passing camps and minicamps and an offseason program. It wasn't the OTA schedule, but there were quarterback schools and things like that. Players were around a lot and they were getting a lot of work. So as long as I've been around the NFL, that was part of the thing.

"If you go in the way-back machine, to where there was one minicamp and that was it, the game was nowhere near as complex. It was like there was a rule that you had two have two backs in the backfield. I remember when San Diego started throwing the ball and putting three wide receivers out there, it was like, 'Holy mackerel. What are they doing? This is revolutionary!'

"A lot of that had to do with the limited time that they had for players [in the offseason]. The specialization has increased. I think the quality of the game has gone up significantly. It's infinitely more complex than it was. The fundamentals and the basics are still the same. But the personnel groups and all those different things, you've exponentially expanded that."