• Adam Caplan

Caplan's NFL Corner: Unique Challenges Ahead For Training Camp

Training Camp Will Have Unique Challenges; Does a shortened pre-season Really Matter?


When NFL training camps open late next month, coaches will be charged with the challenge of getting their players ready for the regular season.


But this time around, it won't be just about getting the rookies and first-year players up to speed. It will be about getting every player ready after not having off-season practices due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.


"Not having players in the Spring certainly will take some adjusting to. But at the same time we can't speed everything up to make up for lost time," an NFL position coach told InsidetheBirds.com.


This coach, who was working for another team during the 2011 season during the lockout, said he knew of teams that gave the players too much on their plate after the lockout was over and play became sloppy.


"We made it a point to talk to other coaches to see how they were handling everything and some guys said that timing was off and some players did not come into camp in good enough shape."

While that was 9 years ago and players have more ways of working out these days on their own, training camp practice time is still limited due to restrictions set by the CBA. The limited practice time came into focus in the 2011 CBA.


"Well, yes, but we can't just rush guys through drill to drill to get them ready for the season because we didn't have an off-season. You can't go zero-to-60 right away."


And there's a real possibility that the NFL and NFLPA agree to a shortened pre-season, perhaps going from 4 to 2 games. That would mean players would wind up not practicing in the off-season, but would also have two fewer games to get ready for the season.


"True, but keep in mind that the preseason is really meaningful just for rookies and first and second-year players," another NFL assistant coach told InsidetheBirds.com. "It is, in a sense, just like the NBA Summer League. Vets don't need a lot of pre-season reps. They know how to and we know how to prepare them." One veteran personnel man said the level of play coming out of the 2011 lockout was not up to par at first. "When you miss all that time, you can't expect perfection right away. From what I recall, the timing was really off because we had so many new players (free agency, draft). It was very sloppy. And don't forget the draft was first, free agency came right up against opening of training camp. I would say it wasn't until the first few weeks of the (regular) season that everything looked like it should."


Philadelphia Eagles: Could Scott's Role be Greater Than First Thought?


It has been widely assumed that the Eagles will wind up signing a veteran running back by the starting of training camp who will back up second-year pro Miles Sanders.


And while that's an accurate assumption according to multiple sources, what if they don't sign one?


That leaves the coaches with Boston Scott, who was a surprise coming out of training camp last season, and fourth-year RB Corey Clement, and three UDFAs (2 from this year's class, and one from last year's).


(An impressive 2019 could propel Boston Scott into a larger role this season if the Eagles don't sign a veteran running back.)

If Scott winds up being the backup for Sanders, there certainly would be some uncertainty in terms of how many carries he could handle if he needed to fill in for a while.


Scott did have two games last season where he had double-digit carries (Week 14 vs. NYG--10 carries, Week 17 at NYG--19 carries).


But what really impressed the Eagles was his ability to catch the football.


This was something that stood out during last year's off-season practices.


Scott, according to a personnel source, is "just OK as a runner" but offers something "different, some juice" out of the backfield.


Scott posted 23 receptions on 25 targets (8.65 yards per catch) over his final four games last season.


What he did is make some unblocked defenders miss in open space, which was noticeable on tape, the source added. We discussed Scott's role and more on the latest Inside the Birds Podcast.

Buffalo Bills: Unheralded Second-Year Player Could Have Significant Role


When the Bills acquired OL Ryan Bates last year from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for OLB/DE Eli Harold, the expectation was that both players were going to be cut by their new teams by the start of the regular season.


That only turned to be half correct.


Harold was released by the Eagles prior to the start of the regular season.


Bates, an undrafted free agent from Penn St., wound up playing in the Bills' final three pre-season games and started in the fourth game (at center).


And not only did Bates make the roster, he wound up being active for 9 games and saw 78 snaps on offense during the regular season. The Eagles, I'm told, saw nothing that would have given them a reason to sign Bates to their practice squad if he had cleared waivers. That's how unimpressive he was during his short time with them. However, when it comes to the Bills, they see him as a RT, G, and C, which makes him potentially a very valuable and key backup going forward.


Chicago Bears: Searching For Speed on Offense


The Bears offense regressed a bit last season after bursting on the scene in head coach Matt Nagy's first season in 2018.


While veteran WR Allen Robinson had a terrific season in 2019 (98-1147-7 TD), teams that played against the Bears said it wasn't hard to defend them due to the lack of speed on offense.


Other than RB Tarik Cohen, the Bears didn't come into this off-season with anyone that teams really had to worry about, which is why they added veteran WR Ted Ginn.


Ginn, who turned 35 in April, will likely be the team's starting "Z" receiver, I'm told.


The former first-round pick, now in his 14th season, signed 1-year, $1.1875m deal with $887,500 fully guaranteed at signing.


And one player who could factor down the line is 5th-round pick Darnell Mooney.


The rookie out of Tulane, who posted a very solid 40-yard dash time (4.38) during the NFL Combine, can "flat out fly," according to a personnel source. He projects to play the "Z" position, the source said.

Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) is a veteran NFL Insider and former ESPN NFL Insider and is currently a host on SiriusXM NFL Radio. Listen to the latest Inside the Birds podcast here:


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