It’s hard to call it training camp when the defensive line is standing under the shade of a tree and the offense is wearing visors and baseball caps. Helmets are nowhere to be found and the offense and defense are split onto separate fields. There is no contact, only simulation, and for the punters aren’t even allowed to kick the ball.
Welcome to the NFL, post the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, where you hit the books and chalkboard harder than anything you do in drills.
With the lockout having ended last month, there are new restrictions in place as to how teams can handle training camps and the traditional two-a-day routine. Under the CBA, teams can only have one-padded session per day, which means that the other session is now a walkthrough. So for the Jets, the morning session becomes more about game plans and schemes as the team delves into the playbook with more of an emphasis on what goes on between the ears then any actual contact.
But for the special teams unit, the new CBA has been an absolute blessing in disguise.
“I like it; I think the walkthrough is good for us. It gives us time to focus on things, where we’re moving and where we’re going,” special teams coach Mike Westhoff told Metro. “It gives me a chance to really go through things, where we should be and how we handle different scenarios. It is an ideal environment to let me work in particular with the younger players who are still adjusting to things. I think it is really good for the rookies on this team to have these sessions to understand the playbook more.”
Head coach Rex Ryan has made the walkthrough a bit of a running joke with the media, in particular during the opening days of training camp. Ryan’s apologies centered on the fact that the low-tempo session was a bit more dull than the usual start of training camp. There seemed to be no intensity and very little hype as the players would mimic a play from their position coach, walkthrough the motion, receive some instruction and then go through it all over again.
Despite the fact that there is a lot of hands on hips time, Westhoff sees the benefit of the morning session, even if his head coach is left scratching his head at the adjustment to the pace and tempo of the walkthrough session.
“I like things to be controlled bursts, short and intense. That is the way our game is played – short and intense bursts,” Westhoff said. “A long, lengthy practice, well, I see them wear out. At times last year, I could see our players just absolutely worn out after a session. There was a burn out, mentally and physically that I don’t see this year.”
The Jets rarely, if ever, wore pads on back-to-back sessions last year, choosing to give a break whenever possible to players after the rigors of contact drills. Westhoff called it “almost the perfect balance” with regard to designing a schedule of padded and non-padded practices. By November and certainly December, the Jets were many times not wearing pads, so as to cut back on wear and tear.
Even the kickers are feeling a boost from the new walkthrough routine.
“It’s good for us as kickers because we don’t over-kick too much,” Nick Novak said. “Sometimes in a camp, you do so much kicking you wear out you leg. I think Nick [Folk] and I are, we’re hitting our peak right now and that’s because we’re not kicking during the morning session, our legs still feel fresh. You can feel it now in how were kicking, just not as fatigued.”
There is a downside to all this. The new schedule makes for longer days for the players, many of whom show up several hours before the 10 a.m. walkthrough practice to get time in the film room, go through the morning session, have lunch and perhaps a session in the gym, put pads on for the afternoon and then go back to the classroom for corrections before heading home. It isn’t surprising to see the team rolling out of the Atlantic Health Jets Training Facility somewhere around 10 p.m. on any given night.
“It is different, the days are longer but the body doesn’t feel as tired so that’s really good,” defensive end Jamaal Westerman said. “When you get the pads on, it’s always good to go out there and hit, you like that, but you also get beat up and more worn down. The nice thing about the walkthrough is that you get the mental reps in while getting the coaching, so you feel ready for the game, even if you’re not getting in as many hits as last year.”
And while Westhoff said that “being out on the practice field during a hitting session for too long isn’t productive,” there is a concern that the lighter sessions might be having a negative impact on the Jets’ readiness for games. With a long list of injuries on Wednesday — including backup quarterback Mark Brunnell, nose tackle Sione Pouha, wide receiver Plaxico Burress, safety Eric Smith and linebacker Calvin Pace — the lack of contact in training camp might be a detriment under game conditions.
But the beatings and bruises now will quickly go away, and Westhoff thinks the effect of the new walkthrough policy can be an advantage come the regular season.
“I thought my guys played pretty well [in preseason] and it wasn’t like we’ve looked less sharp or anything like that because we’ve been having morning walk-thrus instead of pads,” Westhoff said. “It hasn’t been a detriment at all but I think come the middle of the season, everyone is going to be a bit healthier, not as beat up and that’s when this might have more of an impact on just how fresh you feel.”
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for live updates from Jets camp and coverage all season long.