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Why training camp is so important for NFL rookies

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Seattle Seahawks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Each year it seems that at least one member of the Seattle Seahawks rookie class misses a significant portion of training camp with an injury, leading to consternation among fans regarding that player’s lack of contribution as a rookie. For some fans, “He missed training camp with an injury,” has been heard so many times that it has lost much of the meaning it carries. However, with the NFL news cycle dominated by talks of the new CBA proposal, let’s take a quick side step away from the NFL Combine in Indianapolis this week to look at why training camp is so crucial for youngsters in the NFL.

To start with, here is a look at some of the key bullet points from the CBA proposal that is in front of the players.

Specifically, focusing in on the top of the second page, here are the details on practices allowed during training camp.

The key to hone in on is the “Limit of 16 days in pads” in the fourth bullet point. This is key because “in pads” means a padded practice, which means a full contact practice with live hitting. Now, the proposed CBA has the players with 16 padded practices, each with a 2.5 hour limit, which is a reduction in practice time, as the current rules allow for padded practices to be 3 hours each.

In any case, comparing this proposed reduced workload of 16 padded practices, each 2.5 hours in length, translates to 40 hours of padded practices for players over the course of training camp. Keeping in mind that that’s 40 hours after being reduced from the levels currently allowed by the CBA, here is how those 40 hours compare to how much time can be spent in padded practices once the regular season starts.

That’s a lot more legalese than most people likely prefer to consume, so here are the key portions pulled out:

  • “During the regular season, padded practices for all players shall be limited to a total of fourteen”
  • “on-field Team activity for all players shall be limited to a maximum of three hours per day”

Basically, over the course of the entire regular season, NFL teams are allowed to have a total of 42 hours of padded practices - fourteen padded practices, each of which may be up to three hours long.

Putting everything together, there is roughly as much practice time during training camp as there is over the entirety of the regular season. Then, once adding in the four preseason games where youngsters get to see significantly more snaps than veterans, it’s easy to see how important training camp can be for a youngster looking to learn their role.

Just for some ballpark examples, here are the preseason defensive snaps played by the rookies drafted on Day 1 and Day 2 last year:

  • L.J. Collier: 0
  • Marquise Blair: 56
  • Cody Barton: 122

Now, if asked to rank those players in terms of their on-field impact as rookies, most fans would likely put Barton as the most impactful. By the time the season finished, Barton had taken over a starting role at linebacker in both the Wild Card round victory over the Philadelphia Eagles and the Divisional Round loss to the Green Bay Packers after Mychal Kendricks went down with injury. Then would be Blair, who saw spot action over the course of the season. Lastly would be L.J. Collier, who missed most of training camp and for whom it was not uncommon to be a healthy scratch. That’s not to say Collier will never develop, just another piece of anecdotal evidence that can be used to demonstrate how vital training camp can be for younger players.

That said, it’s now time to start dreaming about which players the Seahawks will take in the 2020 NFL Draft, as the measuring and running and lifting of the Underwear Olympics gets underway this week.

UPDATE:

The current cap on padded practices during training camp is 28, meaning there are 84 potential hours of padded practice. That is double the 42 hours of padded practice over the course of the regular season.