This could be end of training camps as we know it

Published 12:50 pm Saturday, July 31, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) — Two-a-days and wind sprints. Lugging heavy playbooks and checking into dorms.

As NFL teams get going this weekend, take a long, hard look. This might be the end of training camp as we know it.

Next year a work stoppage might affect camps. Then by 2012 the league’s owners hope for an 18-game regular season, which would throw off the traditional football math of late summer: two weeks of camp before the first exhibition, six before the opener.

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If the proposal to essentially turn the last two preseason games into regular-season contests becomes reality, teams could just start practicing two weeks earlier, right? Well, maybe not. Players worry a longer regular season would increase injuries, and NFL leaders have suggested they might cut back on training camp as a concession.

“It has to be done in a comprehensive way, which includes how we look at offseason training,” commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday while visiting the Packers’ annual shareholder meeting. “Should we still have OTAs? If so, how many? Should we have restrictions on how long training camp is? Should we have restrictions or limitations on how practices are evolved?”

Talk like that leaves coaches to fret that the new schedule would leave them with too little time to prepare their teams for the season. These competing desires to make training camp longer or shorter, more intense or less, will be among the many issues the league and union talk out as they negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, with the current one set to expire in March.

Here’s the coach’s perspective, from the Ravens’ John Harbaugh:

“I think it will make training camp more intense. You won’t be able to pace your way quite as much into some of the work you want to do. We’ll have to throw a lot more at them a lot quicker.”

And the player’s perspective, from Panthers receiver Steve Smith:

“I’m biased, but yeah, I think camp is too long. If camp was four days I’d think it was too long.”

Players point out they stay in shape during the offseason, so they don’t need a long training camp for conditioning.

“I take a couple of weeks off after the season and do absolutely nothing, but I’m right back into it doing some sort of a workout,” said Buffalo linebacker Chris Kelsay, the Bills’ alternate union rep. “It is a league where you’ve got to be in shape and you’ve got to be working out.”

Conditioning may be the least of coaches’ concerns. They want enough time to evaluate players and teach the playbook. They also hold dear the tradition of using training camp to toughen up their teams.

“You want to wear your guys down and you want them to have to operate under adversity because you’re going to have that during the season,” Chargers coach Norv Turner said. “I think you get that camaraderie by going through some adversity in camp, whether it be grueling practices, whether it’s being out here in the afternoon on a hot day and having to fight through it when you’ve already practiced six straight days of two-a-days.”

The question is whether six straight days of two-a-days in sizzling heat will do more harm than good for players who still have to endure an 18-game regular season. Currently the NFL does not restrict how teams run training camps, yet the new CBA could limit not only how long camp runs but how much players practice each day.

For now, of course, it’s all speculation. George Atallah, the NFL Players Association’s assistant executive director, said in an e-mail that it’s too early in negotiations to be able to discuss the subject in detail.

“I’m comfortable saying that an extra game proposal raises these issues, along with a number of others that I could describe, and that they have to be negotiated over,” he wrote.

Among the many topics to be discussed is when those additional two regular-season games will even take place. If the regular season starts earlier than it does now, hot weather will be a problem in the South. If it runs later, cold weather will be a problem in the North. Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy has raised the possibility of a bye week between the last exhibition and first regular-season game.

“One of the thoughts is that you’re trading out two preseason games for two regular-season games so in effect you’re trading out possibly two-a-day practices for regular-season practices,” he said on a conference call in June. “Just from my own experience, the wear and tear on your body is much greater in the preseason than in the regular season.”


AP Sports Writers Mike Cranston in Spartanburg, S.C., David Ginsburg in Westminster, Md., Chris Jenkins in Green Bay, Wis., John Wawrow in Pittsford, N.Y., and Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this report.