- Floyd Reese, NFL
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More minicamps, injured reserve rules and the salary cap have changed the nature of training camp. Instead of teams going to training camp for six to eight weeks with the intention of polishing football skills and conditioning players, most athletes now arrive at camp in good shape. Training camp is now used more to refine timing, technique and teamwork. Instead of two months, training camps today now run from about the third week in July until mid-August.
The grueling, fully padded practices have been replaced by a combination of special-teams practices, conditioning practices, and practices in shoulder pads and helmets, helmets only, or full pads. Salary-cap pressure has forced franchises to be extra careful with any scenario that increases the probability of injury. Any time you pad up players and have a large number of bodies falling in a small area, the risk of injury skyrockets.
When attending training camp, it would benefit the football fan to:
• Do some research beforehand to see which practices will be in full pads and feature full contact. Take a look at the local newspaper to check for injuries and to see which players will be practicing on the day you plan to attend. There are no guarantees, but you can find out about practices and whether your favorite player is practicing with a little research and good fortune.
• Find the new, high-profile players on the field before practice. The draft choices and the big free-agent acquisitions will be interesting to watch to see where they will fit in on offense or defense. Keep an eye on these players throughout the day and the entire training camp. These players are almost assured of being on the roster.
• Look for the high-contact drills. This will be the most fun, intense and morale-boosting area on the field. Even the players not directly involved will get excited about the fact that this is football at its basics. If you can't determine which drills are going on where, follow the hooting and hollering. This will generally bring you to the drills with the most contact.
• Look for the one-on-one defensive back/wide receiver drills. This is a drill that does not always feature full contact, but you might get just as much out of it even when the players are not in full pads. This drill gives fans a chance to see the timing between the quarterbacks and receivers, the speed and catching ability of the receivers, and the zone and man-to-man cover skills of the secondary. You can see the quarterback developing great timing with specific receivers. This is often where a favorite receiver is identified. You will see the ability of the receivers to run, and can measure their speed in a football uniform. You will also see the secondary placed in a position even more difficult than what it will see during a game. Defensive backs are some of the most athletic players in any sport and in this drill the clear advantage is with the offense. If a defensive back stands out, he is probably going to be a very good player.
• Find the 9-on-7/half-line drills. This is one of the scariest drills you will see in camp. There is no deception, misdirection or question about what is going to happen. The offense is going to try to drill the ball down the throat of the defense, and the defense is going to fight back not to let that happen. Because of the high injury risk, this drill will be seen only at specific times, for specific purposes.
Former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese contributes frequently to ESPN.com.