NFL training camp is a much bigger deal now than a decade or two ago. Back then, training camp was not treated as a news event unless something newsworthy happened. Such as a starter getting injured (Geno Smith) or arrested (Aldon Smith) or a quarterback fighting a teammate (Cam Newton, Geno again) .
In those days, reporters used the early weeks of camp – before the preseason games and the cuts began – to write about quirky athletes you never heard of and won’t hear from again once the regular season begins.
We went for the oddball features, like the undrafted linebacker from Montana State who wrestles bears. Or the center from Southern Louisiana who tames alligators.
Get us some human-interest stories, the sports editor would say. This was a chance for the football writer to show imagination, have some fun with the reporting and the writing while waiting for hard news to occur.
But nowadays routine practice is taken seriously, covered as if it’s an actual game that counts.
Recent “news stories” out of Tennessee extolled the fact that Marcus Mariota hasn’t thrown an interception in training camp. That’s getting major national attention.
Along with a newsflash from Jacksonville that Jameis Winston is tossing them in bunches. During media interrogation he attributed the problem to a throwing motion that’s more like a pitcher than a quarterback. He’s trying to get over baseball.
Of course, there’s always Johnny Manziel.
Two weeks ago the hot story out of Browns camp was that little Johnny, though finally free from drugs, alcohol and egomania, was in danger of not making the roster. Conner Shaw and Thad Lewis, not to mention No. 1 Josh McCown, were out-throwing him.
But last week, whoopee, Manziel completed 9 of 11 in a scrimmage. So now we’re told he’s front-runner to be starting quarterback.
But here’s the big shocker of training camp so far: Aaron Rodgers, Mr. MVP himself, threw five picks in one practice session.
I would have hated to have to ask him about that. Recall last year when the Green Bay Packers quarterback ridiculed reporters, embarrassed the hell out of them actually, for questions about the team having a subpar practice.
“It’s practice,” Rodgers kept saying. “It’s practice. . . . I don’t want to go all Allen Iverson, but it’s practice.”
Aaron, I totally agree.
After the alarming – to some reporters — INT flurry of last week, coach Mike McCarthy felt compelled to explain that Rodgers was intentionally flinging off-target footballs to give his receivers practice at leaping and diving and battling with defensive backs.
“He’s going to do things in training camp that he might not do on a Sunday,” McCarthy said. “Give guys chances to make plays and so forth.”
But the Non-Story of the Week was another one out of Green Bay that revealed how 31 Packers linemen fared in one-on-one drills against each other. ESPN provided in-depth coverage. One of their reporters prepared a chart with won-lost records of each lineman and the inevitable analytics, some things called RPI and SOS.
I’m ready to send an SOS. Save me from this deluge of training camp irrelevancy.
Not to be picking on Green Bay. The Dallas Morning News printed 31 notes and highlights from one Cowboys practice that featured a 7-on-7 drill. The story about practice had more play-by-play than any regular-season game would have. It began: “Ken Boatright knocks down a pass at the line of scrimmage.”
I’m guessing the Metroplex is all abuzz about that play.
How times have changed. I’m ancient enough to remember when NFL preseason games were called exhibitions, their tickets were cheap, and they didn’t get much press attention.
There was far less coverage, of course, of the practices before the exhibitions began. A reporter’s sanity would have been questioned if he kept stats during scrimmaging and wrote articles about who won the blocking drills and who finished second and third and so on.
As a pro football fan I refused for many years to watch preseason games because, hey, they don’t count.
Now, as someone who’s semi-retired and enjoys going to Las Vegas and betting on the opening week of the real season, I do pay some attention to preseason to help me make those early picks to share with readers of this website.
But there is such a thing as too much information. That’s where we are now.