Retired LB view: Soft camps bad for game

Former Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks linebacker Dave Wyman is having a hard time recognizing NFL training camps now that rules limiting contact have taken effect. His thoughts on the implications follow here. Additional views to follow as camps progress.

Linebackers and coaches weren't the ones legislating contact from a sport dependent upon it. Some of these practice guidelines sound like something put together by a bunch of attorneys:

  • No more than one practice per day in full pads.

  • A second practice must be a walk-through only, and get this: There’s no running in the walk-through practice. No running. No cantering. No galloping. No loping. No scampering. It’s a walk-through.

  • Strict time limits for practices. Coaches are actually huddling just off the field before practice because the clock starts ticking immediately when players and coaches are on the field together.

All of this is done in the name of preserving players' health. Count this crusty old linebacker from the previous century among the skeptics. Let's run through the most pressing questions and concerns:

  • Getting into “hitting shape” requires contact. There’s a soreness that cannot be duplicated in any kind of offseason workout no matter how rigorous. When you hit, your muscles react, break down, and then get stronger ... and presumably protect you.

  • Evaluating toughness becomes tougher. Many personnel decisions made during training camp are based on practices. What we fans see on the field during an exhibition game is just the tip of the iceberg. At least it was before these rules. There's a wind-sucking, head-bashing, 15-play drive waiting to happen during the NFL season. If you're a coach, you need to know whether you've got a guy that will buck up, grab the other guys by their throats and scream, "Suck it up!' in the huddle because he survived the summer heat and the mental battle associated with grinding out padded double-day practices in August. Good luck identifying those players without more practices in pads.

  • Blocking and tackling must be drilled in practice. You can’t just roll your helmet out on the field when the lights come on and expect to be a sound tackler or blocker. You must practice hitting just as you practice route running and passing. Fans should prepare to see the quality of the fundamentals nosedive. Contact is the very essence of this game.

  • The all-America practice player. What about the players who need to hit in practice to prove themselves and make the team? There are, after all, millions of dollars at stake for some of these players. You may see a player go too hard in a non-padded practice to prove himself, injuring another player or himself.

  • So much for Darwinism. It sounds harsh, I know, but there's a certain amount of natural selection that plays out during padded double day practices. Will the wrong guys end up out there on the field? Will we see more severe injuries because players are on the field who do not belong? What if a team plays an exceptionally athletic guy who cannot take a hit or does not know how to hit? Injuries could actually increase. At the very least, the blocking and tackling will become less sound.

I know, I know ... I’m not out there. I’m sure there are plenty of players and fans who think there's too much hitting as it is.

As a teenager, it didn’t seem like a good idea when my dad woke me up each summer morning at 5:30 to participate in the worst manual labor he could find. But I'm glad I went through that. It built character and toughness. It helped get me through many a double day practice, which helped me get through many a season.