The NFL is not the NBA, where the drama begins after the Finals end. After the Super Bowl, there’s a vanilla free-agency period and the NFL draft, which has become such an embarrassingly bloated event that it’s basically one of those people on the ship from WALL-E. After the draft ends in late April and Mr. Irrelevant gets his jersey, NFL fans could switch to a flip phone for May, June, July, and much of August and not miss a thing.
Training camp is the NFL equivalent of serving crudité before a steak dinner. You’re grateful because you’re hungry, but the very sight of it makes you even hungrier. The preseason is just empty calories. As we wait for the main course to arrive next month, here’s the definitive ranking of the most fun NFL training camp drills. We’ll be snacking on these for the rest of August.
7. Cross Sport Training Drills
Cross sport training is all the rage in football. Ohio State and Clemson are leading the charge in recruiting multisport athletes, and not just from sports that intuitively translate to football, like basketball and track. Defensive linemen have applied principles from martial arts for decades, and now teams teach the basics of hand-to-hand combat in training camp. Fox Sports insider Jay Glazer teaches NFL pass rushers MMA in the offseason, and Kansas City’s Tamba Hali received his purple belt in jiu-jitsu (really hard to do!) seemingly in the middle of an epic Twitter rant.
The Jaguars, never a franchise to be left behind by the league, have taken cross-training to a more … Floridian approach.
Jaguars tried something different at practice today - putting away the footballs for this drill and brought out the volleyballs pic.twitter.com/YQIPiPH6sq— John Reid (@JohnReid64) August 3, 2017
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, the Browns’ attempt to get light-years ahead of the league has them teaching their players gymnastics, apparently.
6. The Gauntlet
Every red-blooded American should enjoy watching players bash tackling dummies into a fine pulp. First overall pick Myles Garrett sure looks like Kid Flash going through the gauntlet here as his mentor, all-time sack leader Bruce Smith, watches approvingly from afar. Unfortunately, tackling dummies don’t make for good opponents, a problem that American Gladiators solved a long time ago.
For those who like to see big dudes hit things really hard, but also feel bad when that "thing" is another human being, the creaks and clanks of crushed metal are cathartic.
Mark Herzlich 1, blocking sled 0. pic.twitter.com/jTvlYGfk5v— Paul Schwartz (@NYPost_Schwartz) July 30, 2017
(Can we take a moment to appreciate how quickly that sled rights itself?)
Offensive linemen succeed on the sleds when they demonstrate explosion, a low center of gravity, and the all-important virtue of chopping your feet. Even better: those three things can also make you look like a penguin learning to run.
Still, looking silly while dominating the sled is better than missing it altogether.
4. The Saints Quarterback Challenge
When you have the continuity that Sean Payton and Drew Brees have, you can get creative. The Saints have a "QB Challenge" web series in which the quarterbacks and coaches compete in increasingly ridiculous throwing competitions throughout training camp. In Wednesday’s elaborate episode, Payton, Brees and Co. were throwing darts (in the form of thumbtack-pointed footballs aimed at groups of helium balloons rising to the ceiling).
The 53-year-old Payton popped more balloons than Brees, which is an uncertain omen for Brees’s season.
Mark Ingram followed up by hijacking a game of football pong.
It’s unclear whether any of this creativity will be channeled into the Saints’ defense.
3. Two-Minute Drill
Teams often simulate a game-winning drive at the end of practice, and the best ones are when the defense takes it way too seriously, wins the "game" by ending the drive, and rubs it in the offense’s face.
DE Cameron Jordan getting an arm up in front of Drew Brees to force an incomplete swing pass on the "game-winning" play of practice. pic.twitter.com/6b232nPO6X— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) August 2, 2017
2. One-on-One Drills
One-on-one drills aren’t fair. Isolation situations inherently put the offense in a position to succeed, which is why offensive coordinators try to create them in actual games. The limited physicality of training camp adds to the offense’s built-in advantage, and we should be hesitant to make snap, sweeping judgments from anything that comes out of these drills.
But one-on-ones give us moments like this (Warning: This video will single-handedly bump Christian McCaffrey up at least a round in your fantasy league draft):
McCaffrey got Luke with the juke moves pic.twitter.com/q7IA1s6EU0— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 2, 2017
That’s Panthers first-round pick and human pinball McCaffrey making Luke Kuechly look like Luke McCown. (After practice, the team held a memorial service for Luke Kuechly’s ankles.)
The only thing better than ankle-breaking is jump balls. If you think open-field tackling is hard, have some mercy for cornerbacks who have to cover receivers on an island without a pass rush.
Playing on an island is hard, but when that island is invaded by DeAndre Hopkins, life gets harder.
Hopkins wears 3-XL gloves because his hands are 10 inches long. (You know what they say about dudes with big hands: They’re gentle with baby animals.) Look at your phone and imagine that it is twice as large. DeAndre Hopkins could hold that imaginary phone, end to end, with two fingers. The fade route may be trash, but players like Hopkins who make the back corner of the end zone truly unguardable are why it will never go away. Long live the one-on-one.
1. Bill Belichick Personally Testing Brady’s Pocket Presence
I’ve always wanted to throw things at Tom Brady.