We Talkin' About Practice

How NFL practice habits prepare NFL teams for NFL games.

Many of us here played sports in high school or college. I, for one, played Water Polo throughout my high school career. I had a blast playing (my team was damn good), and the camaraderie that I had with my teammates was fantastic. But behind each victory came the most hated and most necessary of sports traditions: practice.

Inevitably, after the toll of constant two-a-day sessions wore my teammates and I down, we would often find ourselves only halfheartedly doing drills, going through the motions at lethargic paces. Whenever this happened, our coach would yell, "Is that what you would do in a game?"

Anyone on this site who has ever played an organized sport has probably gotten that very same lecture somewhere along the line. If you practice with energy and confidence, then you will play with energy and confidence. Any zeal you show in practice will only be muscle-memory magnified in a game. And that concept holds true in today's NFL.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Dallas Cowboys' training camp (unfortunately, the cheerleaders weren't there). I happen to reside about 15 minutes outside of Oxnard, California, where the 'boys have been holding camp for decades. I couldn't quite afford a trip to Renton to catch training camp, so I figured I would get my football fix with what was closest to me, and catch Seahawks.com's live broadcasts instead.

What I saw at Cowboys' camp inspired me to write an article comparing the two franchises' camp methods, and relate these methods to on-field performance. For all intents in purposes, I will be pulling Seahawks' camp information from last year's live broadcasts and information that I've read about the camp.

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Easily the main difference between these two training camps is the energy and pace of camp. Pete Carroll constantly blasting music would be undoubtedly frowned upon by Jerry Jones and the Dallas group. In fact, the Cowboys' camp was rather quiet, with only the occasional horn permeating the air, signaling to the players that it was time to rotate. Fan chatter was minimal; it was hard to even strike up a conversation with many of the Dallas fans about their team. Most interesting to me, though, were the players' attitudes. Every now and then, a player would congratulate a teammate on a good play. But there wasn't a ton of excitement. As a result, the players didn't appear to be going full speed. This was only the second day of camp for Dallas, yet energy wasn't present. Maybe it was just an offseason hangover, but for the most part players didn't appear to be psyched to be playing football again.

Seahawks camp, as many of us know, is just about as loud and energetic as you can get. From the music to that crazy bag drill that everyone gets fired up for, there is enthusiasm abundant for Seahawks camp. The speed with which players go through drills is significantly quicker than Dallas's speed. Seattle treats drills as an opportunity to hit something, to elude something. The Seahawks see it as another competition. The Dallas players, from my perspective, saw it as a chore.

Another big difference between the two camps was the involvement of Seattle coaches versus the non-involvement of Dallas coaches. I've seen enough Ken Norton Jr. yelling to last a lifetime. One thing that isn't talked about enough here at Fieldgulls is how damn good our position coaches are. They always have something to teach the players, even if those players are already at an elite level.

During Dallas' camp, the coaches were surprisingly hands-off. They mostly just ran their players through drills without many words. One interesting thing they did was they let the established veterans do a lot of teaching by example. Demarcus Ware, Dallas' star pass rusher, went first in every single defensive lineman drill, almost as if he were demonstrating technique to the others. Perhaps this is Jason Garrett's philosophy at work, but it was surprising to me to see the relative restraint on part of the Dallas coaches.

Speaking of Garrett, Dallas' head coach was perhaps the most removed of all the staff. During team drills, Garrett would very rarely talk to the players and coach them up. If the first team-offense false-started, they were immediately pulled off the field and given no second chance until they next came up in the rotation (this often resulted in protection breakdowns the next time up for the first-team offensive line). It was cold and calculated, which isn't exactly the vibe that (at least to me) Pete Carroll gives off.

The ultimate result of these practice discrepancies is displayed on the field. Pete Carroll and the Hawks smoked Jason Garrett's Cowboys during last year's matchup between them, and this was before Russell Wilson was "turned loose" as we like to say here. Dallas missed the playoffs, while Seattle enjoyed the drama of the playoffs. But the main difference on the field between these two teams? Seattle flocks to the ball on every play. They treat everything as a competition. There is a clear philosophy that is present with this team. In Dallas, from my eye, not so much.

So as training camp blessedly comes to us this week, be thankful that Seattle's coach knows, and constantly stresses, the importance of practice. It's one of the most important (if not THE most important) pieces of Carroll's program.

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