The Opening of NFL Training Camp, is the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.—I am apt to believe that it should be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. – A modified quote from President John Adams.
After months of waiting and endless speculation, professional football teams open training camp across the nation. The mock quote from President Adams is better for Week 1, but I’m so burnt out on everyone contemplating the ‘what-ifs’ for the past six months that I’m ready to sacrifice a flock of seagulls to thank the gods. Week 1 can’t get here fast enough, and I’m pleased to have substantive topics to discuss.
We’ve all been football-starved for too long, making us hungry for any input we can get from practices. But that desperation can lead to consuming reports that have no business getting air time. Here is a handy guide to help you separate the wheat from the chaff.
The Quarterback Threw 4 Interceptions Today!
For the most part, I avoid engaging in a lot of social media arguments. Unfortunately, each training camp, I find myself in a back-and-forth with some fans and journalists who feel each interception are the cries of impending doom that rise from the 49ers practice field.
Think back to when you were playing high school or college football. How often did a coach call a play, and then ask the receiver or a tight end to run a different route? Or, maybe the quarterback told the huddle he was going with the first read, no matter the defensive formation.
Our offensive coordinator in high school loved picking on specific players. He’d often call a pass play and then tell me or our X-receiver to run a different route.
“Let’s make Chris look bad on this play. Travis, instead of a slant, turn it up field. Bret, you run the delay and sit behind the backers instead of going across the field. Let’s see what happens.”
Sometimes we’d make Chris look bad; sometimes the linebackers wouldn’t see me sitting behind them. Other times our quarterback would throw it my way, and the linebacker would intercept the pass, or the defensive line would swat the ball to the grass. These outcomes meant nothing in the way of skill; they were all about different looks, trying different things or even making a minor adjustment to a play or route.
Unless you’re in the huddle, none of us have an idea what the players or coaches call at any given time during practice: new plays, new routes, alternate footwork. So, for any reporter to over analyze an interception is arrogant and leads the reader to believe there are serious problems with the passing game.
Smart fan tip: There’s a big difference between consistently bad play and one or two bad practices. Training camp interceptions are not news and are not a big deal.
Defensive Player Had 4 Sacks Today!
In the same vein as reporting on interceptions, tallying practice sacks has no purpose in the sporting press.
However, I’d make the following caveat: Judge overall defensive play by the number of scrambles or no-throws a quarterback makes.
If you’ve watched Hard Knocks, most coaches do not want star players – read quarterbacks and running backs – brought to the ground, let alone touched during practice. There’s too much chaos after four seconds, with each position coach not wanting anyone to get hurt on some scramble drill.
How then, can any observer of 49ers practice start tallying sacks and count them as absolutes?
Smart fan tip: If you attend the open practice, take a pencil and a pad of paper. On each passing attempt, count four-alligators. If the quarterback is still searching around for someone open or scrambles, the defense made a stop and give them a point. On the flip side, if the offense makes a play, mark a point for them. Or, focus on one player for a series. Watch his feet, his explosion off the ball, field vision and overall technique. What makes him better than his competition?
After Day One, This Player is Already Starting
We know right away who a few starters will be as the 49ers open camp. Joe Staley isn’t going anywhere, Brian Hoyer’s been the starting quarterback for months, and Eric Reid had the safety spot locked up.
Take a step back at the moment and look at the roster. We’re going to see fantastic position battles everywhere, especially for second-team spots. I’d wager the next six weeks will be one of the more competitive camps since Harbaugh and the 49ers ‘mutually parted ways.’ There are two running backs coming in from 2016 – Carlos Hyde and Raheem Mostert. Kapri Bibbs, Matt Breida, Tim Hightower and Joe Williams are new additions and all look to make Hyde earn the starting job for this season.
Also, the tight end battle is going to be fierce. The whole galaxy knows Vance McDonald has near total ineptitude to catch a football. So, rather than give him a few more reps on the Jugs machine and pray for better hands, the 49ers added Logan Paulsen, George Kittle, and Cole Hikutini during the offseason. If Vance doesn’t get it done this preseason, don’t expect Shanahan to keep him.
A few months ago, I wrote a linebacker preview, which stands to be one of the best positions to watch this preseason. Right now, there are 13 linebackers listed on the roster. Players like NaVorro Bowman, Malcom Smith and rookie Reuben Foster, will make the roster, but the starters are not yet determined.
Additionally, what will fan reaction be if Eli Harold or Ahmad Brooks has a good preseason, but ultimately get cut before Week 1?
Smart fan tip: Every spot is open for competition, but some are more open than others.
Special Request: Reporters, Don’t Ask the Name of the Play
At nearly every press conference, a few reporters will ask the offensive or defensive coordinator about a specific play, series of plays or how a player fits a designed scheme. These are good questions, along for greater insight into how the offense or defense operates. Plus, these inquiries lead to be smarter fans, rather than just a group of people yelling at the top of their lungs.
What is unhelpful is when the reporter follows up and asks the scheme breakdown or the name of the play.
Folks, nobody is going to give you the play name. There’s no way Brian Hoyer is going to stand at the lectern and say, “Oh sure. What you saw on that touchdown pass was ‘Gun Empty Left, 76 Double Seam, Y-Jerk’. I check strong on this play, but if I see something in my pre-read, I’ll go right to the Y-receiver who’s hot on the play. But, that can change if we have the middle of the field open. That’s when the Z breaks off the route at 15 yards and curls in and the X runs a post.”
Smart reporter tip: Ask a player’s favorite food before asking the name of the play.
We can get through the next month; it’ll work itself out fine. All we need is just a little patience.