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Most teams cutting back on two-a-days


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Teams cut back on camp two-a-days

By Len Pasquarelli

ESPN.com

July 25, 2005

 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It is as much an element of training camp legend as taping the No. 1 draft choice to the goalpost, forcing every rookie to croon his alma mater at the dining hall, or sneaking out to break curfew after bed-check.

 

Unfortunately, the two-a-day practice regimen that dominated most training camps for at least four decades, a grueling grind of preparing for the season with both morning and afternoon workouts, was never quite as much fun as those other sophomoric shenanigans.

 

The good news, as several NFL franchises commenced camp over the weekend? Two-a-day schedules are increasingly being relegated to the trash bin of football history. Like grass drills, daily "live" scrimmage sessions and musty flea-bag dormitories without air conditioning, the twice-daily practice routine is evolving out of the NFL lexicon.

 

"Oh, man, those two-a-days, they get old fast," agreed Atlanta Falcons quarterback Ty Detmer, who has spent most of his previous 13 NFL training camps suffering through the crucible of double sessions.

 

Over the past few summers, however, and certainly continuing into this year's camps, it seems two-a-days are quickly becoming as old-school as not permitting water breaks on the practice field. When the Falcons began camp Monday, it was with a single afternoon session. In his second season with the team, coach Jim Mora Jr. will follow the 1-2-1 practice schedule he initiated last summer. Translation: His team will never practice twice on consecutive days and likely won't ever have two "padded" workouts in a row.

 

It would have been an anathema for Mora's father, Jim Mora Sr., to have eschewed a two-a-day schedule during his 15 seasons as an NFL head coach. Virtually every franchise in the league, even those that weren't always in full pads for both of the sessions, opened camp with twice-daily practices as the norm. Usually the two-a-days spanned at least the first couple weeks of camp.

 

But reducing the number of two-a-days, at a time when teams are continuing to expand the offseason conditioning programs, is hardly a generational trend. Even veteran head coaches once noted for their arduous training camps, like Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants, have dramatically cut back or even eliminated two-a-days altogether.

 

"It's just being smarter in managing your time, getting things accomplished when you're on the field, then getting your players out of the sun," the Falcons' Mora said. "Sure, it's a break from tradition. But everything changes. When you get to September, you don't want a team that's already burned out because of what it did in July and August."

 

Not every team has adopted the philosophy. Tampa Bay will begin camp with eight straight days of traditional double practices, take a day off, and then come back with four more two-a-day sets. Dallas also has eight straight days at the outset of camp in which the Cowboys have traditional (9-11 a.m. and 3-5 p.m.) two-a-day practice times. And the Eagles have 13 two-a-days, with practices starting at 8:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m., during the first 15 days of training camp.

 

Even those teams, however, will mix in some unpadded practices, walk-through workouts and sessions devoted principally to special teams during those stretches.

 

Needless to say, players who historically have dreaded the two-a-days are thrilled by the move to a more sane and humanitarian practice schedule. It isn't quite the country club atmosphere some traditionalists have suggested, but it is a diversion from the prison camp images that sometimes accompanied training camps in the past.

 

Old-timers like Hall of Famer Dick Butkus have scoffed at the practice cutbacks, and the former Bears middle linebacker not too long ago suggested that some players are becoming soft in camp. Too many head coaches, however, have seen their teams and their playoff chances wilt in July because of excessively taxing practice schedules, and the trend toward conservation began several years ago and has mushroomed since.

 

It used to be that surviving the rigors of two-a-days was a test of manhood. Many players now feel the old-school schedule can jeopardize their livelihood.

 

"You know how quickly you lose your legs in the heat?" said Cleveland tailback Lee Suggs, whose team will follow the same 1-2-1 approach the Falcons use. "Any kind of break, anything that gives [your body] more recovery time between practices, is a plus."

 

Apparently, more teams agree, since a quick survey last week showed that at least two-thirds of the league's franchises have abandoned the traditional two-a-day schedule. In an effort to keep players fresher in the summer heat and humidity, and as a concession to most players who report to camp in better condition now than they did in the past, coaches and trainers have devised a variety of practice schedule models.

 

In the first 10 days of the Giants' camp in Albany, N.Y., the team will conduct just two standard two-a-day practices. Overall, there will be only 10 double practice days for the entire camp, and the second practice on those days will be at night. The only back-to-back two-a-days come on the first two days. The Buffalo Bills have no consecutive two-a-days. On most days when Jacksonville works twice, coach Jack Del Rio won't convene the second practice until the evening. Only twice will the Jaguars endure the standard two-a-day schedule, with one practice in the morning and the second in the afternoon.

 

Green Bay will never be in pads twice in the same day throughout its entire camp. The same is true for the Chicago Bears, where second-year coach Lovie Smith has also cut all practices to no more than two hours. In Tennessee, coach Jeff Fisher will ease his Titans into camp, working lightly the first four days before going to two-a-day practices.

 

"I can remember when you'd go weeks upon weeks of doubles, for five or six days at a time," Titans general manager Floyd Reese said. "I think now, the biggest part is you're scared to death of guys getting hurt. The second thing is, guys are in better shape."

 

In this age of enlightenment, and at a time when teams work so much now in offseason programs, the consensus is two-a-days are not only superfluous but perhaps unsafe as well. No doubt, the injury factor has played a role in moving teams away from a standard two-a-day schedule. Some coaches contacted last week noted that when two-a-days originated, franchises sometimes had 100 players in camp.

 

Roster limits, the leaguewide lack of depth produced by the salary cap, and the fact that teams must count injured players toward the spending limit have forced franchises to rethink their training camp practice methods.

 

The Bears suffered 16 hamstring injuries in 2004, the most notable of which was that to star middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, on the first day of camp. This offseason, the Chicago training staff undertook an extensive analysis of which teams suffered the most injuries and which were hit by the least over the last few seasons, and then correlated the results with how those teams practiced in camp. The result was the new schedule, in which the team will never work in pads more than once a day.

 

"Everybody around the league is looking at it," said Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, acknowledging that camp fatigue invites injuries, especially of the soft-tissue variety. "You've got bigger, faster players on faster surfaces. It's like the perfect storm, the way so many things are coming together, and in violent ways. Even though the league studies show injuries have stayed the same, there are more teams who are getting more devastated by injuries."

 

And more teams now trying to reduce injuries by reducing two-a-days.

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