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An Expert Handicapper's Guide to NFL Training Camps

An Expert Handicapper's Guide to NFL Training Camps

An Expert Handicapper's Guide to NFL Training Camps
By T.O. Whenham

As hard as it may be to believe, NFL training camps are just around the corner. Soon,
multi-millionaire players for teams that still respect tradition will be living in
dorm rooms in some sleepy college town, practicing once or twice a day, and getting
ready for another year. It's a great time of year. As media scrutiny of the NFL has
intensified, though, coverage of training camps have become more and more intense.
That's mostly a good thing, but it can also be proof that there is such a thing as
too much information. There are some things we hear out of training camps that are
important aids to our handicapping process, and others that are absolutely
meaningless and misleading. Here's an attempt to help you tell the difference between
what training camp coverage to listen to, and which to ignore for your NFL

Ignore: Freakish performances Listen to: Rookies practicing with the first unit

Every year it's the same - some receiver is catching the ball like it's glued to his
hands, or some running back is so fast that the defense can't see him, or some
defensive end is getting to the quarterback so easily that he will surely end up with
30 sacks. Occasionally, those performances in camp turn into strong seasons, but not
usually. More often, the player is long forgotten by the time the season rolls around
and the only people that remember how good he looked in August are all the suckers
who wasted a pick on him for their fantasy teams. Stories of superhuman performance
in camp mean almost nothing. Instead, focus on stories of young players who are
playing with the starters. This is a much better sign of a player who is making an
impact. It's especially important if those players play a position that is typically
filled by a veteran that is still with the team - that means that something s
definitely up.

Ignore: A different look on defense in games Listen to: A different look on defense
in practice

Preseason games are meaningless in all regards, but especially on defense.
Coordinators don't want to give away any of their tricks, so defensive schemes are as
vanilla as they can possibly be. If a team is doing something different in a game
than we are used to there is no guarantee that we will see the same thing in the
regular season. If there are consistent reports, though that a team is working on
something new in practice, then chances are pretty good that opposing offenses are in
for a surprise when the season starts.

Ignore: A veteran player skipping a practice or two Listen to: A veteran player
living in the training room

By the time you have been through a few training camps I'm sure the novelty has worn
off. If a player sits out a practice we are going to hear about it, and it's easy to
assume that he is fighting an injury problem. That's not always the case. Sometimes
he just doesn't feel like practicing. Don't assume that an injury might be an issue
until you hear reports that a guy has essentially taken up residence in the training
room, or that there is some other clear sign of a problem - like crutches.

Ignore: Every statistic from preseason games Listen to: The tempo and intensity a
team plays their preseason games with

Offenses don't use their full playbooks and they don't use their starters for the
whole game. Defenses only use a small selection from their bag of tricks, and they
don't use a lot of starters, either. It's as close to irrelevant as anything can be
how many yards a team passed for, or ran for, or how well the defense did against the
run or the pass. Don't get suckered in. What is important, though, is whether the
team looks like they are excited to be there. If a team is enjoying themselves, and
their coaching staff is getting through to them, then they will play like they want
to be there. If camp isn't going as well as it could then that will be reflected on
the field as well. Ignore the numbers and look for the subtle clues instead.

Ignore: Everything a coach says Listen to: How comfortable he looks while he says it

Coaches lie. Even if they don't mean to, it is genetically impossible for a coach to
stand in front of a microphone or a tape recorder and tell the whole truth. If you
trust their words completely then you are just setting yourself up for a fall.
Instead, pay attention to whether they look relaxed, or if they seem confident, or
how well rested they seem. For veteran coaches, compare their current demeanor to how
they usually are. When it comes to interviews with coaches, the real value comes from
looking between the lines.

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