NFL 2014: Coaches and players alike struggle with lack of contact practices

  • Article by: BARRY WILNER , AP Pro Football Writer
  • Updated: July 23, 2013 - 3:15 PM

Looking perplexed, Tom Coughlin stood on the field watching a minicamp practice. No pads, no real blocking, no power football for the New York Giants, as mandated by the labor agreement between the league and the players.

It's difficult enough when the players can hit each other to evaluate whether NFL wannabes have what it takes, or if veterans still can carry the load pro football demands. Now, with lots of offseason availabilities but virtually no contact allowed, followed by training camps in which two-a-days are outlawed unless one practice is a walk-through, the appraisal process won't get much easier.

"Well, it is pro football. It is the way it is today," Coughlin says.

Success has to be built, he says, by "doing a good job with our evaluations — bringing the right people in here and getting them integrated into our offense, defense and special teams, the way we do things, what our expectation levels are, what our values are. And the more we can be with them and around them, then the better you are going to feel about it."

Coaches and players will be around each other plenty over the next month, whether it's in training camps or at exhibition games, or back at the home facilities when teams that go away early in camp return as the regular season approaches. Tons of classroom study is ahead, even for teams whose offensive and defensive schemes have been established for years. Lots of breakout sessions with position coaches, too. Enough video watching to, well, make your eyes spin.

And not all that much time on the practice fields.

No contact or pads are allowed during the first three days of camp, with the reporting date limited to physical exams, meetings and classroom work. Running and conditioning is allowed.

Throughout training camp, players can't be on the field for more than four hours per day; only one practice a day can be in pads and is restricted to three hours or less, followed by a three-hour break; and players get one day off per week.

That all makes for a safer game, but how can newcomers make a sharp impact?

Denver running back Montee Ball felt he already did so even without a ball in his hands.

"I made sure to leave a little impression on the conditioning test ..." the record-setting second-round draft pick from Wisconsin said. "I just want them to remember that I came in working since Day 1, and I really attacked the playbook since Day 1. I made a lot of progress with it."

Ball will get a shot at being a starter for the Broncos after veteran Willis McGahee was cut. It's much more difficult for lower draft picks or rookie free agents to get long looks these days, though it does happen.

Alfred Morris came out of Florida Atlantic of the not-so-mighty Sun Belt Conference as a sixth-round pick last year. He ran around, over and through just about everyone but Mike Shanahan last spring and summer in Washington, and the Redskins not only kept him, they started him. Morris rushed for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns and helped the Skins make the playoffs.

"Alfred's a beast," Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan says. "I think one guy or about three guys all year tackled him on the first tackle. That guy runs as hard as anyone I've ever seen. Most of his yards came on outside zone, not the zone read, so Alfred is as good of a back as I've ever had. He's the real deal."

But discovering the real deal is even more of a chore with practice time in pads and scrimmaging so limited compared to before 2011. The players association insisted on the cutbacks during CBA negotiations, and with player safety a major issue, the NFL agreed.

Doug Casa, professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut and the lead researcher for the Korey Stringer Institute, already has seen many health benefits resulting from the 2011 CBA.

A leader in heat illness detection and prevention, Casa advised the league and the players' union on establishing practice guidelines during the hottest time of the year.

"For certain, 2011 was the first real opportunity to make changes since Korey," he said, referring to Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer dying from complications due to heat stroke on Aug. 1, 2001 during training camp. At 27, he was the first professional football player to die from the illness. "After the CBA, when they overhauled the heat guidelines, did away with two-a-day practices, modified some heat treatment recommendations, it created a safer environment."

Even as coaches praise such developments, they also bemoan all those snaps and blocks and tackles that have disappeared.

"It's cut down on the opportunities to see them in those situations," says Browns first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski, a long-time offensive assistant in the league. "By the same token I think the preseason games are so important as well in that process, but you do ... only get them so many times in pads and hitting anyway. It puts a premium on the reps that they do get."

But the coaches also recognize everyone plays by the same set of rules.

"It's a level playing field, so there's no difference between our team and every other team," Jets coach Rex Ryan says. "But there are other things that you do. I think having opportunity days where maybe at the end of practice you put the ball down and you let the young guys go at it. You're going to see them in preseason games as well. That's why those games are critical, (as well as) the green-and-white scrimmage. Even if we have to create our own live scrimmage situations, they'll have the opportunity to show what they can do."

They'd better do so quickly.

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Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
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Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
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NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
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NY Giants
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Tampa Bay
Carolina 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Atlanta
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Green Bay
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Denver
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Toronto 2:30 PM
LA Clippers
Boston 6:00 PM
Washington
Orlando 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Memphis 6:30 PM
Miami
Indiana 7:00 PM
Brooklyn
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Chicago
Atlanta 7:30 PM
Milwaukee
Philadelphia 8:00 PM
Utah
New York 9:00 PM
Sacramento
Minnesota 9:30 PM
Golden State
NY Islanders 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Detroit 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Carolina 6:00 PM
Tampa Bay
New Jersey 6:00 PM
NY Rangers
Boston 6:00 PM
Columbus
Winnipeg 6:00 PM
Minnesota
Washington 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Dallas 7:00 PM
St. Louis
Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Nashville
Anaheim 7:00 PM
Arizona
Chicago 8:00 PM
Colorado
Edmonton 9:00 PM
Calgary
San Jose 9:00 PM
Los Angeles
Indiana 69 2nd Half 3:35
Georgetown 66
Maine 43 FINAL
Seton Hall 72
UNC-Wilmington 38 2nd Half
Minnesota 54
Georgia State 37 2nd Half
Green Bay 35
Jacksonville St 1:00 PM
Jacksonville
Kentucky 1:00 PM
Louisville
Northern Ky 2:00 PM
Northwestern
UAB 3:00 PM
North Carolina
IUPUI 3:00 PM
Pepperdine
Santa Clara 3:00 PM
St Marys-CA
Oakland 4:00 PM
Maryland
Gonzaga 5:00 PM
BYU
Mercer 5:00 PM
Georgia
San Francisco 5:00 PM
Pacific
Wright State 6:00 PM
Ohio State
Presbyterian 6:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Brescia 7:00 PM
Western Ky
Tennessee St 7:30 PM
Tennessee
Kennesaw St 8:00 PM
Illinois
Colorado State 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Portland 8:00 PM
San Diego
Wayland Baptist 8:05 PM
Utah State
Bristol University 8:05 PM
Weber State
Sacramento St 8:05 PM
Utah Valley U
Southern Utah 9:00 PM
UNLV
SD Christian 9:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 18 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 35
Rutgers 40 FINAL
North Carolina 21
NC State 34 FINAL
UCF 27
Cincinnati 7 2nd Qtr 15:00
Virginia Tech 7
(15) Arizona State 1:10 PM
Duke
Miami-Florida 2:30 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
SMU 16 2nd Half
(2) Connecticut 49
UCF 2:00 PM
Houston
BYU 4:00 PM
Gonzaga
Pacific 4:00 PM
San Francisco
St Marys-CA 4:00 PM
Santa Clara
San Diego 7:00 PM
Portland
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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