For a while, it seemed as if there was almost a tacit acknowledgement by
players that a certain amount of contact in off-season workouts was going to
happen. A wink-wink, if you will.
After all, for several weeks, there were reports from all over the NFL
landscape about the contact that was occurring. Most of the evidence came from
the players themselves.
Consider that rules regarding off-season workouts have been negotiated between
the players association and league. Even though, except for one mandatory
minicamp, the workouts are voluntary for veterans, there are strict guidelines.
Teams can only have 14 days of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), and there are
also other restrictions, including one that limits the number of hours players
can be "required" to be on the field or at the team facility.
Most contact is generally prohibited, but the rules specify that there can be
no practicing of the bump-and-run or contact between offensive and defensive
linemen. Players can wear only helmets and some shoulder protection, but no
In past years, there have often been a few violations each off-season, which
result in a club losing some OTA days. For a team to be called on the carpet,
usually a player is the one to blow the whistle on his team. When that happens,
the NFLPA requests practice tape, after which the penalties can occur. The union
could also investigate if it sees media reports of contact.
A few years ago, then-Arizona guard Pete Kendall was released just before
training camp started with the belief it happened because then-Cardinals coach
Dennis Green thought it was Kendall who reported the team to the union,
resulting in a loss of off-season practice time.
This year, however, things were quiet on the violation front until last week,
when suddenly the Raiders were slapped with a one-week penalty. It is not yet
known if a player was the culprit. But there are also suspicions that the union
acted, just to make it seem they are paying attention.
The ban means little since the Raiders had already concluded their on-field
work. In reality, that is often the case. Even though teams are permitted to
have those 14 OTAs over five weeks, most teams don't use them all anyway. So,
losing the final week, which is often the discipline, amounts to a slap on the
After being notified of the decision, a statement from Raiders coach Lane
Kiffin said, "I was notified that the players union believes our total
commitment to improving our football team has resulted in some violations of
rules regarding practice standards. The union has complained about the high
level of intensity, player aggressiveness and fast pace of our practices and, as
a result, has taken away the final week of our off-season program."
One player didn't seem to mind. Said linebacker Kirk Morrison, "We just play
with a fast tempo, and whatever happens with a fast tempo happens. We're running
around, we're practicing, finishing our technique. It's so fast-paced, it's hard
to stop. You get guys running at full speed, and guys are going to put a hand on
Kiffin at one point recently said tackle Robert Gallery was participating with
a "nasty demeanor" and had been successful getting "guys on the ground."
The Raiders weren't alone.
A recent story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had the headline: "Seahawks
Work on Bump-and-Run in Minicamp." Items from the story said, "Marcus Trufant
used his right forearm to jostle D.J. Hackett as he broke off the line of
scrimmage, disrupting Hackett's route and depriving quarterback Matt Hasselbeck
of his primary receiver. A few plays later, Pete Hunter missed his jam on Deion Branch, allowing Branch to run past him and take a deep pass from Seneca Wallace."
Giants fullback Jim Finn was placed on injured reserve recently because of a
torn labrum in his shoulder. The Newark Star-Ledger reported that, "According to
someone familiar with Jim Finn's shoulder injury, the seven-year veteran was
injured late last month in one of the team's first OTA workouts. The person said
Finn delivered a block and immediately felt a pop in his shoulder."
In another incident involving the Giants, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reported
last week that during practice, defensive tackle Jay Alford went to the ground
courtesy of center Shaun O'Hara "during a blocking drill that had grown
Giants coach Tom Coughlin told Cole, "That's an example of when it gets a
little out of control and we talked to (O'Hara) about it. You don't want players
getting hurt. That's the last thing we want."
Cole also wrote, "Coughlin's public sentiment has been echoed by many coaches
and players around the league. Most Giants players said the contact was little
more than a natural part of practice that got a little out of hand."
Giants tackle Kareem McKenzie told Cole, "In our situation, we have a new
offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator and they're installing new
things to our system. As players, we're trying to be sharp and execute to the
best of our ability. When you're trying to do that, your tempo is going to be
faster, more intense and that's where you start to get what you're talking
"It's not what any of us want at this time of the year. But this is football.
It's a physical sport. This is what we're trained to do."
Finally, during a recent Browns practice, rookie tackle Joe Thomas was
involved in a fight with rookie defensive end Chase Pittman. When Thomas was
told by a reporter that contact is not supposed to happen, he said, "I think we
hit more probably now than we did with pads at Wisconsin during the season."
There are those who say the union should be more vigilant in enforcing the
rules, while there are others who believe the bans on contact are unrealistic.
As McKenzie said, "This is football." It's also the dawn of a new day in the
Teams spend more time in meeting rooms than on the field. The days of training
camp two-a-days in full pads have gone the way of the dinosaur. Many teams have
an alternating schedule of two practices one day and just one the next, with one
or at most two in full pads. Players seem to accept that their training camp
days will be a lot more bearable because of the amount of work accomplished in
That's why the solution is a relaxing of the restrictions on contact as
opposed to stricter enforcement of rules that few seem to care about.