The Incredible Shrinking Training Camp


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Jan 22, 2006
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The Incredible Shrinking Training Camp
Jul 06, 2006, 4:07:43 AM by Jonathan Rand

Some NFL traditions die harder than others. Some are missed more than others.

Slowly but surely, training camps are diminishing. A few decades ago, they occupied six weeks — a major chunk of the league’s summer calendar. If you’re not paying close attention, the Chiefs’ stay in River Falls, Wis., may be over before you realize it ever started. Camp will last just three weeks, starting with a July 28 practice.

Three weeks are barely long enough for a player to pick out his favorite table in the cafeteria. And a lot of teams have decided it’s not worth packing for such a short trip.

The Chiefs are among the traditionalists who still travel to a relatively remote spot, where players can focus entirely on football and, the coaches like to think, develop team chemistry.

When it comes to training camp, though, there are fewer and fewer traditionalists left in the NFL. Only 19 of the 32 teams still leave home for camp. For many teams, the convenience of training at home trumps any benefits that may result from traveling hundreds of miles.

This de-emphasis of old-time training camps brings few tears around the NFL. Baseball’s spring training may be a charming, time-honored rite. But pro football’s training camps are a tedious necessity.

The Cleveland Browns will be first to open camp, July 23, and no Browns team has trained outside its in-season facility since 1991. The Denver Broncos had trained for 21 years on the Northern Colorado campus before deciding to stay home in 2003. Owner Pat Bowlen pointed out that off-season work has redefined the role of training camp.

Players could consider shorter camps their reward for voluntary and mandatory off-season workouts. Three-week training camps mean half as many two-a-day workouts than in the old days, and twice as much time home with the family.

Some coaches still like to head for cooler locales because they feel that blazing heat limits how much work they can accomplish in training camp. That’s why the Cowboys annually forsake Dallas for northern California.

Yet the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons stay put despite toasty summer conditions. They’ve all found over the years that when they have enough talent, they become Super Bowl contenders and when talent is thin, they struggle. In December, it doesn’t matter much how hot it might’ve been at training camp.

The Chiefs sought to escape those 98-degree days in Kansas City when they moved to River Falls in 1991. They also felt the old camp, at William Jewell College in Liberty, no longer was meeting many of their needs.

The Chiefs trained in Liberty from 1963-1990, during which they experienced two Super Bowl seasons as well as long stretches of futility. Similarly, the Chiefs have been both a perennial playoff team and a habitual also-ran since switching to River Falls.

The Chiefs will play their first preseason game at Houston on August 12, just 15 days after their first River Falls workout. Though that may seem like short notice, the Chiefs, or any other NFL team, could play a preseason game after working for just a few days in pads. Starting units have worked together in the off-season, and coaches know which youngsters need the most playing time to be thoroughly evaluated.

Over the next several years, NFL teams that leave home for training camp likely will fall into the minority. Before long, they may be extinct.

The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.

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