Training Camp | July 26, 2012
When I was a teenager, cricket was my thing. Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I was really good at it. I was a spin bowler and a prolific wicket taker at school and district level, I even played for my county at all the age group up to under 19 and was a regular player in the Kent league. I was then invited to the equivalent of a Training Camp to be assessed by the pro coaches.
This was my chance to make it in the game and become a professional – fame, glory and wealth were beckoning. Except that it didn’t work out,. And why didn’t it work out? Unfortunately, at the trial the coaches noticed a pretty fundamental flaw in the bowling…I didn’t actually spin the ball at all!
You see, my hands are slightly on the small side – not Beadlesque by any means, but small enough to make gripping and ripping a cricket ball pretty difficult. Truth be told, I’d managed to get by thus far by varying my pace, delivery angle and line effectively, it was good enough at most levels, but the pro coaches sussed me out straight away. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” was the message, although seeing as they didn’t have my phone number I didn’t leave felling very optimistic!
I’m glad I got that off my chest, but what’s it got to do with the NFl and Training Camps?
Simple really, for all the scouting, video analysis and poring over stats that coaches have done in the off season, until you see a player in the flesh, playing alongside his teammates, you don’t know for certain what you’ve got on your (small!) hands. What if your new Guard doesn’t have the hand speed to cope with NFL defences? What if your recently acquired Receiver is no good at route running or learning plays and what if your newly drafted QB panics when faced with an NFL Defence rushing him. The next few weeks will tell NFL Coaches an awful lot about the players they have at their disposal. Ultimately, Training Camps will go a long way to deciding who starts, who will be a back up and who will be heading to the Free Agency list.
It’s not just Rookies who will be under the microscope. One of the most interesting battles at Training Camp will be between 2 veteran Wide Receivers in New England. Both Deion Branch and Donte Stallworth are in the Autumn of their careers and it seems likely that the Patriots will only be having on of them on their roster this season. The coaches will be looking at who can still run the routes, displays the necessary pace and has the stamina for a full NFL season. My money’s on Branch, but it’ll be interesting to see how they both go over the next few weeks.
Of course, the main media focus will be on battles for starting spots – Kolb v Skelton, Locker v Hasselbeck, plus 3 way fights for the QB job in Miami and the RB starting role in Washington. But if you dig a bit deeper there are all manner of interesting sub plots to be played out before Week 1. Here are just a small selection:
- Can the Panthers defence improve? Whilst Carolina were great fun to watch in 2011, they had an abomination of a defence. One of the key factors was the absence of Joe Beason – now he’s fit, they need to integrate him into a new look Defence that also welcomes back Thomas Davis and adds rookie Luke Kuechly. “Who plays inside and who plays outside” will have to be resolved quickly. More importantly, The Panthers need to manage the fitness of Beason and Davis to ensure their injuries do not resurface.
- Alex Smith in continuity shocker! For the first time in his career, the 49ers QB will turn up for Training Camp and not have to go through a “meet and greet” session with his coaches. Even more excitingly, he’ll have some new targets to throw to – Mario Manningham and Randy Moss. Whilst Moss is a gamble (and a Training Camp story in itself, Manningham is a solid acquisition and a definite upgrade. Smith showed that he can be an NFL QB in 2011, now all the pieces are in place for him to kick on. It will be fascinating to see how he develops at Training Camp now all the pieces are in place.
- New Hero Wanted! Talking of Manningham, he was last seen making a miraculous catch in the SuperBowl. A moment that will go down in Giants folklore and should guarantee Mario a free night out whenever he returns to New York. However, Manningham has moved on and the Giants need to find a replacement. Manningham was never the main man for the Giants, but he was a vital part of the title winner team. rookie Reuben Randle is in pole position to step into the 3rd receiver role, the rookie was picked primarily for his route running skills, but 2nd year Jerrel Jernigan, veteran Dominik Hixon and even Ramses Barden will push him all the way. This will be a fascinating Training Camp battle and one that will be vital for the giants if they want to mount a successful defence of the Vince Lombardi trophy.
- Keep Peyton Upright! The older Manning is fit and raring to go in Denver, but he’s coming off a long term injury and isn’t getting any younger. Combine that with the 2011 version of the Bronco’s O line and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Clearly, protecting Manning is a radical change from protecting Tim Tebow, so it’ll be imperative to Denver’s chances that the Offensive line is up to speed and firing by the time Week 1 comes around.
- Bounce back ability! The players under the most scrutiny in the upcoming Camps will be the ones who had disappointing 2011 campaigns. The likes of Chris Johnson, Josh Freeman, Philip Rivers and Chad Ochocinco to name but four. Closely following them in the “under the microscope” stakes are the sophomore 1st round QB picks who are yet to fully make their mark on the NFL. I’m talking about Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder. 2012 is a make or break season for these young players.
These are just a small selection of the stories that will be of interest in the next couple of weeks. Just make sure you look out for the players with small hands!